The purpose of some networking sites may be purely social, allowing users to establish friendships or romantic relationships, while others may focus on establishing business connections. Like no generation before them, today’s college students are using technology to express themselves and interact with one other.
The most popular social networking web site is MySpace, which has more than 100 million accounts with a demographic that is dominated by teens and 20-somethings. It accounts for up to 5 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic. At its best, social networking can be a useful way to find like-minded people online, either to pursue some interest or goal, or just to help to establish a sense of community among people who may never meet in the real world. There are a number of services that focus on a certain niche. While none of them seem likely to overtake the behemoth that is MySpace, they have each found a niche that may appeal to like-minded people.
The US market share of Internet traffic to the top 20 social networking sites grew by 11.5 percent from January to February 2007. This accounted for 6.5 percent of all Internet traffic. Unsurprisingly, MySpace is still the leader with an 80% share. Facebook is MySpace’s closest challenger with 10% of the market. It appears that social networking will continue to grow as it becomes more ingrained in mainstream sites. These sites must provide consumers with distinct content they can identify with.
Marketers are finally ready to embrace social networks, according to a report from eMarketer. There are upwards of 15 million university Internet users in the US alone, and they are an active online audience. U.S. social network ad spending is estimated to reach $2 billion by 2010. The report predicts that U.S. spending will total $865 million by 2007 (up from $350 million). MySpace is expected to profit greatly at $525 million. The rest is divided between ‘generic social network sites’ which includes Facebook, Bebo, Piczo, and Friendster ($200 million), and ‘portal’ social networks such as MSN Spaces, Yahoo 360, and AIM Pages ($95 million). The remaining $45 million goes to more niche sites.
There are security issues with using a social networking web site. Because social networking sites rely on connections and communication, they encourage you to provide a certain amount of personal information. When deciding how much information to reveal, people may not exercise the same amount of caution as they would when meeting someone in person. Some people get a false sense of security when conversing on the internet. While the majority of people using these sites do not pose a threat, malicious people may be drawn to them because of the accessibility and amount of personal information available on them. The more information malicious people have about you, the easier it is for them to take advantage of you. Predators may form relationships online and then convince unsuspecting individuals to meet them in person. That could lead to a dangerous situation.
You may also be placing yourself in danger of identity theft if you use a social networking site. Members may be adding too much personal information to their online profiles. Limit the personal information you make available online. Avoid including your full date of birth along with the names of children and pets (which are often used for passwords).
The growing popularity of social networking sites is causing disruption in the lives of some students. Some students are having a difficult time concentrating because of obsessive use of MySpace or Facebook. They feel the need to check it repeatedly. In some extreme cases, students are spending up to 12 hours a day online and are flunking classes.
If you choose to be a member of a social networking community there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:
One last note about social networking sites – Be careful what you post. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, one in every ten employers is viewing profiles on social networking sites and possibly factoring what they see into hiring decisions. New college graduates will be faced with a tougher job market and savvier employers this year. You don’t want to do anything to lower your chances of landing a plum position. Employers have a lot of leeway when deciding who they should and should not hire. Unless an applicant is being discriminated against because of race, age, gender, or ethnicity, there is very little the applicant can complain about. Since users of social networking sites can typically control what is posted and who is able to view these postings, the responsibility to maintain privacy lies completely with the user.
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