The Role of Computer Networks in Social Networking

How computers facilitate and grow social networks

Social networks existed long before computer networking came onto the scene. Nowadays, though, most everyone associates social networking with the internet.

What Makes a Network Social?

When people think of social networking, they often consider the biggest public sites and apps, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Different kinds of social networks exist, however. For example, corporate intranets function much like public social networks, except there's a smaller private community.

These networks share several common attributes:

  • Membership: Social networks generally require users to register names and accounts. While many public networks offer free registration, some charge fees for their premium services. Private networks (such as university alumni groups) restrict registration to people who meet specific eligibility criteria.
  • Content contribution: These networks enable members to share photos, videos, and comments with others easily.
  • Frequent return visits: A healthy social network centers around a base of members who regularly check for new updates and contribute their updates.
  • Human relationship building: The common goal of most social networks is enabling the interactions that build connections among communities of people.
Social Media Life
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The Usefulness of Social Networks

Besides being a fun place to relax and meet with people, social networking brings benefits to individuals and communities:

  • Group information sharing over long distances: Although friends and family members can keep in contact through text messages or phone calls, social networks offer a richer environment for staying connected. Many scenarios, such as sharing photo albums, or wishing someone a happy birthday, work better on these networks because an entire group can participate. Overall, group discussions become more convenient because everyone doesn't need to be online at the same moment to post comments.
  • Broadcast announcements: Local shops and venues can advertise upcoming events on social networks. Cities can spread the word of emergencies. Businesses can market their products to customers (and also obtain feedback).
  • Fostering diversity of thought: Some critics of social networks point out that online communities tend to attract people with similar interests and backgrounds. When people with different opinions get together online, many discussions seem to degenerate into personal attacks. It can be argued, though, that online debates are healthy in the long run. Even though individuals may begin with extreme views, over time, their thinking is influenced by the comments of others, to some extent.

Computer Network Technology for Social Networking

Large-scale social networking relies on powerful servers and storage systems to support the large content databases and the high volume of traffic that these sites generate.

Social networking tends to generate a large volume of network traffic due to the high level of interactivity it fosters. Sharing photos and videos, in particular, consumes significant network bandwidth.

Because accessibility and convenience are crucial to online communities, social networks must effectively support all kinds of fixed and mobile devices.

Keeping Social Networks Secure

The nature of social networking causes people to become more open and sharing with relative strangers online. This environment tends to expose personal information. It also attracts criminals and hackers looking to steal a person's money and other valuable data. Younger children and older adults are particularly susceptible to revealing more than they should.

When logging into any social network, a good rule of thumb is to assume the world can see everything that is done. Parents should keep a close watch on their children's online usage habits.

Why Some Social Networks Fail

Two popular social networks that no longer exist in their original form are Orkut and MySpace. Their demise illustrates the typical challenges that any social network, public or private, faces when looking to establish itself:

  • Growing a dedicated community of members: Even if millions of people visit a social site, the network is only useful if enough of those people become members and regular contributors.
  • Making money for its creators: Any social network requires an investment of time and money to build. The larger public networks, in particular, involve server farms in data centers, advertising systems, and people to manage it. If the companies or individuals building a network don't see sufficient return on their investment, they may shift their focus. This causes a network to break down and become uninteresting to the community.
  • Staying fresh: It's human nature to want to be part of something new and growing. The coolness factor of a social network naturally fades over time unless it continually changes and adapts to modern social trends.