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Computer mediated communications:

Social network – Came riding the waves of amazing coincidences

Raymond Cheng


Photo © Lise Gagne

Historically, major over-investment bubbles and their subsequent crashes often bring about profound socio-economic changes. The U.S. telegraph bubbles in the 1840s and 1850s gave birth to real-time news agencies (e.g. Associated Press 1846) and the introduction of "wire transfer" (e.g. Western Union 1851). The railroad bubbles in the 1880s and 1890s facilitated country-wide logistics and led to the rise of today's international brands (e.g. Coke-Cola 1886, Sears 1893). The stocks bubble in the 1920s during the Great Depression of the U.S. fostered the establishment of the world's first deposit insurance in 1933 and social security systems in 1935 (Gross, 2007). The dot-com crash in the early 2000s, likewise, brought down the costs of information technology equipment as well as that of the international leased circuits (Aizu, 2002), making broadband connections and mobile phone services much more affordable. Technological advancement also played a similar role but in a different way. With the collaborative development of open-source Web service platforms (e.g. Apache) that are more stable, reliable (Boulanger, 2005) and more widely adopted (see Figure 1) than their proprietary competitors (e.g. Microsoft IIS), large-scale "server farms" with much higher capacities have become possible (Tuomi, 2003). Peer-to-peer technology further expanded the scalability of the already rapidly growing computer networks (Nguyen, 2008). Advancement in material sciences, surface-mount and nanotechnologies coupled with newer processing and fabrication techniques also opened the door for lighter, smarter, less expensive, more robust and higher performing products (Ellsworth, 2004).

Market share for top webserver platforms (1995-2011)
Figure 1. Market share for top webserver platforms 1995-2011. Source: Netcraft.

Top 10 social networking websites and forums
Figure 2. Top 10 social networking websites and forums. Source: Marketing Charts.

Yet the concept of social networks (SN) does not have its roots entirely in any one of these socio-economic impacts nor technological reforms. The concept of SN, in fact, existed well before, but just in different forms – first as "Bulletin Board Systems" piggy-backed on slow modem connections in the 1970s, USENET newsgroups in the 1980s, and eventually "online communities" in the 1990s. It is only the handful few that survived the millennium that would be able to reap the benefits of the carrier price slashes as well as the emergence of the various technologies. Classmates.com (now a nostalgic site for the elders) and Match.com (a dating site) were launched in early 1995 as the very first batch of web-based online communities followed by SixDegrees and GeoCities in 1997. Later reviewed as "moves simply ahead of their time" (Marion, Omotayo, 2011), both SixDegrees and GeoCities went out of business in 2001 and 2009 respectively, together with a handful others. Those that managed to stay to enjoy the coming of Web 2.0 [1] are either launched with specific purposes in mind, e.g. Dogster.com for dog lovers, MyChurch.com for church-goers, and DemocraticHub.com for democrats, or are geographically and/or linguistically focused, e.g. VK.com for Russians (see Table 1). Some other online communities, originally designed to cater for the general public, chose a different survival path and transformed to support a smaller niche group (see Table 2). The dot-com crash and the technology did not give birth to social networks – it was the SNs that rode on their backs.

Name of SN Rank Brief Description
Facebook 1 General Internet population
V Kontakte.ru (vk.com) 32 European-based social network active in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Belarus; users in the age range 18-24, graduate school educated and browse from home
Odnoklassniki.ru 66 Russian word for "Classmates ", popular in Russia and former Soviet republics; home users in the age range 25-34, have children, are graduate school educated
MySpace.com 182 Previously the largest SN in the U.S., users in the age range 18-24, have no children and browse from school
Mixi.jp 377 Popular in Japan, targets males in the age range 45-54, have no children, no college education who browse from work
Orkut.com (Google owned) 496 Popular in Brazil, India, Japan; targets males in the range 18-24, have no children and are graduate school educated
Tagged.com 240 Popular in Dominica, Sudan, Malaysia, Iraq, Kenya, Puerto Rico, UAE; targets males in the age range 45-54, received some college education and browse from home
Match.com 338 Users in age range 55-64, have no children and received some college education
Classmates.com 1,392 Popular in U.S.; users are mainly females over 65 years old, received some college education and browse from home; increasingly focused on nostalgic content since 2010
Cyworld.kr 3,183 Popular in South Korea; targets female users in the age range 35-44, have no children and browse from work; first Korean company to profit from the sale of virtual goods
Hyves.nl 3,471 Sounds like "Bee Hives "; popular in Netherlands and Belgium; targets males who are graduate school educated and browse mainly from school
Bebo.com 4,236 Popular in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand; targets males in the age range 18-24, have no children, received some college education and browse from home
iWiW.hu 4,653 Stands for "International Who is Who"; popular in Hungary and Romania; targets users in the age range 35-44, have no college education and browse from home
Geocities 7,905 An early online community first appeared in 1994, purchased by Yahoo in 1999, closed in 2009
Affinity Circles 432,842 An early player in the social media business that targets university and college graduates; users in the age range 35-44, graduate school educated and browse from work
Six Degrees.com 1,051,186 Users are males in the age range 18-24, have no children, college educated and browse from home; ceased to operate in 2001, restarted in 2010 (note: do not confuse with the sixdegrees.org initiative)

Table 1. Major SNs [2] and their Alexa® ranking [3] (October 2012). Source: Alexa.com

SN-turned sites Rank Brief Description
Hi5.com 633 Popular in Angola, Congo, Cameroon, Ecuador, Costa Rica; targets male users; recently transformed into a social gaming network upon purchased by Tagged.com (Raice, 2011)
Friendster.com 15,074 Popular in Malaysia, Singapore, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh; users in the age range 18-24; recently transformed into a gaming network

Table 2. SN-turned gaming sites. Source: Alexa.com

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Note 1: Web 2.0, see "What Is Web 2.0? Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software" by Tim O'Reilly, dated September 30, 2005.

Note 2: Google+ (Google Plus) is not listed in Alexa's ranking. See Figure 2 for ranking.

Note 3: The term "rank" here refers to the Alexa's daily Internet traffic ranking reports (www.alexa.com). Alexa is funded by Amazon Inc. and provides traffic ranks for approximately 16 million websites (amounting to 4.5 billion web pages) around the world.