Social Media are an online means of communication that provides the public with news, entertainment, community, etc., usually along with advertising. The fascinating aspect is that anyone with a connection to the Internet can participate in the process. The Web is powerful in its ability to connect people; spreading real time, unfiltered information. The Haitian relief effort was a fine example of social media, illustrating its strengths and weaknesses. Rescue efforts were augmented by Twitter posts (“tweets”) from people on the ground, while cybercriminals attempted to divert donations through spam email campaigns.
The general public needs to become more knowledgeable about the online world that today’s youth visit on a daily / hourly basis. This blog posting will give an overview of the various categories of Social Media including: social networks, blogs, wikis, microblogs and virtual worlds. (Updated from an article previously posted on my extinct Tumblr blog.) The lines between the different categories are blurring as the Web continues to evolve. Later entries will exam the categories in greater detail.
Social Networks started as websites where members could connect with friends and share photos. The networks have evolved into areas where members are urged to share ever-increasing amounts of personal details. Social Network owners harvest valuable marketing data about their members and provide a marketing channel for advertisers. In return, Social Networks attempt to provide a safe environment and entertaining experience. Membership in the sites includes 73% of wired American teens (source: Pew Internet & American Life Project or “Pew”). Several of the popular networks include:
|Badoo||Global Network originating in London|
|Bigadda||Self described as Indian Youth Networking|
|Considered one of the largest social networks (source: Nielsen Top 100 websites – January 2010)|
|Friendster||Popular in Southeast Asia|
|Hi5||Combines social networking with social entertainment. Available in over 50 languages.|
|Networking for Business Professionals|
|MySpace||Previously considered the largest social network, before being overtaken by Facebook.|
|Orkut||Owned by Google, popular in India and Brazil|
|Qzone||Major site in China.|
The major social networks have open memberships, although users must be at least 13 years old. However, some websites do not actively prevent registration by younger users.
Blogs are online journals used to widely share information. According to Pew, blogging and commenting on personal blogs has declined among teens (14% of online teens and 52% of teen social network members, respectively).
Twitter is currently the most popular microblogging service. While blog entries are theoretically unlimited in length, Twitter entries (i.e., tweets) are limited to 140 characters. After leaving NBC, Conan O’Brien sent the following tweet: “Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me.”
While research data suggests that teens are not significant users of Twitter, those that use it should be cautioned about revealing location data. The website PleaseRobMe was built using a Twitter search to highlight the risks of sharing too much data (see news.bbc.co.us article: “PleaseRobMe website reveals dangers of social networks”).
A wiki is an online collaborative workspace that allows community members to post and edit entries in the theory that the collective will produce a more accurate document (ex. Wikipedia).
A bare bones description of a Virtual World is an artificial, online environment where users create a persona (i.e., avatar) that interacts with other users. The worlds are detailed environments, with fully developed economies. Wealth within certain Virtual Worlds can translate into actual profits in the real world. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 8% of online teens 12 – 17 (11% of younger teens 12 – 13) visit Virtual Worlds. The site’s owners earn income by selling digital items such as land and furniture. Several Virtual Worlds with significant membership include: Habbo (also known as Habbo Hotel), Gaia, Second Life (adults only) and Teen Second Life.
This was a brief overview to familiarize readers with the basic elements of Social Media. In future posts, I will examine each element in detail, highlighting some of the risks young people face in each environment and suggest steps to be taken to protect them. Namaste.