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Bronze-level articleSocial networking websites

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Social networking websites are places where people who do not possess much of a social life in the real world can blather on to each other about meaningless twaddle that only they care about. Obviously these people are nothing like us.

Moving swiftly along, social networking sites help people keep in touch, now that people move around a lot because the tabloids tell them to (gotta keep those house prices up!). Some, such as MySpace, provide a useful platform for people who want to show off their atrocious HTML skills to the wider world.

Contents

Major sites

Myspace

Myspace was one of the first major social networking websites to hit a super-huge size, at its peak, it was the most popular with over 250 million members and described practically as some sort of nation state in its own right. In 2009, however, it was overtaken by Facebook in terms of membership and page views and popularity has steadily declined since, with its ranking on Alexa dropping from its peak in the top 5 to nearly 35 over the course of 18 months.[1] MySpace requires you to fill in tons of personal info in order to join. Once you join, a million people you don't know will know your personal info. Also, your inbox will be filled with spam and "friend requests" promising you free pron if you add ILIKEKIDSEX4 as your friend.

Myspace is famous for the really annoying, often Emo orientated, music that plays as soon as you enter almost any profile.[2] As users can choose their own layout of their page, most profiles appear to have lime green text on purple scrolling backgrounds. Prolonged exposure to this dangerous combination of psychedelic text, whiny music and potentially fatal HTML errors (even the homepage has enough errors in it to make the W3C lose sleep at night) can lead to PTSD and/or defection to rival social network Facebook.

The Washington Post Magazine of March 16, 2008 listed MySpace as obsolescent, alongside such things as cassette tape mixes, rotary dial phones, answering machines, making cigarette ashtrays in kindergarten craft projects, and computer paper with holes in the side. Funny thing, print newspapers were somehow not on their list. Clearly then, MySpace is a thing of the past; after all, the Post is America's Newspaper of Record and would never jump the gun on a thing like this.

Its also worthy of note that MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same person who runs Fox News. Update In June of 2011 Murdoch sold the site for a measly $35 million to Justin Timberlake & Friends, after paying $580 million to acquire it back in 2005 [3].

F icon.svg Facebook

But one thing is certain, and it’s that I’m a jerk for making this site...
—Mark Zuckerberg[4]
'Ooops. Something went wrong. We're working on getting this fixed as soon as we can. You may be able to try again.
—What most people see when trying to use the site.
Facebook has horrible ads that claim your friends have a crush on you. How yuk is that?

Facebook is a social networking site stalking tool for college students. Facebook often receives a shitstorm of attention regarding its "privacy" settings, which people are generally too stupid to use - they're actually quite powerful and useful, from being able to easily restrict what you share with certain friends to sending you a one-time password via text message if you're using an unsecured connection that you don't trust. The privacy controversy really developed in November 2007 Facebook's staff launched Facebook Beacon, in which Facebook's partner e-commerce websites, including eBay and Travelocity, provided Facebook with news of all your purchases (the partner websites knowing you are on Facebook because you have cookies from Facebook stored on your browser disclosing your Facebook identity to these other websites). Incredibly, Facebook then broadcast news of every purchase you made off-site to all of your Facebook "friends", and initially did this without even requiring the user to first opt-in to Beacon. Needless to say, there was a rapid public outcry over this practice and Beacon's "opt-out" status was quickly reversed. Facebook's integration with other websites has continued to be relentless, but is now far less creepy, and mostly used by social media nerds.

It's worse than that "graph of things Michael Jackson blames it on"

As with other social networking sites such as Myspace and LiveJournal, Facebook is very popular among college students who post all sorts of personal information about themselves, without realizing the potential for it later coming back to haunt them. So when they add their boss as a friend while they still have a profile picture of them being a drunken lunatic at a stag party, they're a little surprised to be passed over for promotion later. But in short with Facebook privacy, if you don't want it public, don't fucking put it on the site, this includes the people who post their phone numbers to "public" groups.[5] Facebook makes it difficult to delete your account and data permanently and even when gone there is no guarantee that it isn't still in the database somewhere.[6] Although it is possible to delete everything by request, it's easier and quicker just to post some random anti-religious screed, be openly racist or start posting porn in order to get banned by the administrators. To make it easier for people to come back, they prefer "deactivation", which basically is the same as deletion, but it keeps your data on the server in case you want to come back (how nice). The site also engages in a little harmless emotional blackmail by telling you how many of your friends will "miss you" when you're gone.

Since Facebook replaced MySpace as the social networking site of choice for most people, some long term users have noted a trend towards puerile harping and frivolity. Basically, all the people from MySpace came over because they were sick of how crap MySpace was, turned Facebook into MySpace and are now getting sick of how crap Facebook is now that they've turned it into MySpace. To get an idea of the average IQ of a Facebook user, just check out the complaints every time they make a change; with the "news feed" for example. Following a change from a feed that featured selected highlights of what your friends have done (which could be controlled via an options panel) they switched to a "live feed" which just threw everything at you as it happened. There were many complaints and groups demanding for it to be switched back. A later change altered this "live feed" into a news feed (pretty much identical to the first "news feed" incarnation) and people still complained, although in fairness many complaints were directed at the absence of any form of notification. If you ever needed proof that people are just plain scared of change that they don't understand, check Facebook.

Facebook is home to a number of online games, including the agriculture-based Farmville. Farmville incurred the wrath of white nationalist "Oscar Yeager", owner of the blog "Day of the Rope" (both names are references to books by William Luther Pierce) as eggs laid by black chickens are worth more points than those laid by white chickens. Or, as he puts it, eggs laid by "nigger chickens" are worth more than eggs laid by "Aryan chickens".[7]

Jesus himself endorses Facebook.[8] And, according to The Onion, so does the CIA.[9] However, the Daily Mail has a long running hate-on for Facebook.[10] The Mail's editorial staff thinks it may cause cancer. To see the best, or perhaps worst, of the site, visit lamebook.com.

Friendster

Friendster is lame, too.

Bebo

Annoying little chavs like to announce at high volume who they've just "met" on Bebo whilst using a public library computer.

Twitter

Currently one of the most popular media for celebrities to embarrass themselves, Twitter expects you to blog in under 140 characters!! Yeah... doesn't sound so cool when you tell it like it is, does it?

It's not even that popular, really.[11] Multiply this by the complete lack of meaningful content[12] and you obviously have the makings of the greatest website ever... Well, Stephen Fry is on it, so that makes everything okay! Recent research into Twitter (as of September 2009) reveals that 80% of its content was Stephen Fry related.[13] By October 2009, the thin-skinned Fry said he was leaving Twitter and never coming back because somebody said his tweets were boring.[14] As one commentator expressed it, this was evidence that Fry was "now so far up his own arse he can see daylight. How on earth can the sad banalities of someone else's life NOT be boring?"

Nevertheless, the short, soundbite nature of Twitter and the fact that these short messages are very friendly for mobile devices, has made it very popular with social networking nerds. It's heavy users are really heavy, often posting, *ahem* "tweeting" dozens of times per day. It is most popular with celebrities or public figures who wish to interact with their fans - as many accounts are actually posted on by the people themselves, rather than managed by PR companies as a relevant Facebook or MySpace profile would. BBC technology columnist Bill Thompson raved about the site before it was seriously big, Ben Goldacre once had a spat with Gillian McKeith over a Twitter comment, and Brian Cox likes to constantly rant about science funding (and where his next Wonders filming spree will take him) via the site.

"Woofer" is the inevitable jab against Twitter's 140 (seriously, what the arse can you say in 140 characters?!?!) character limit; the key point of Woofer is that you must have at least 1400 characters to make a post, leading to tl;dr all round - although one Woofer post per day will be less characters and content than most serious Twitter users make in a month.

LiveJournal

Remember those halcyon days when teenagers didn't want everyone reading their diary?

The English-speaking LiveJournal community is far too full of furries, pagans, the sort of science fiction fans and role-playing gamers who confuse the difference between in-universe and real life, dragon and vampire wannabes, and other kiddie fantasy-land subculturists. Again, nothing like us. Their mascot is a goat, though, so they got that going for them.

LiveJournal pages are also mirrored and archived by at least two different (probably unauthorized) websites, making it a privacy risk to post anything there (same as with all other social networking sites), regardless of whether you set your LiveJournal account to block search engines from your page or post in "friends only" mode - everything will wind up on Google forever anyhow because of these mirror sites.

Though founded in the United States, LiveJournal proved surprisingly popular in Russia, to the point that it has effectively become the Russian equivalent of Facebook, with high-profile Russian politicians and authors hosting their personal blogs on the site. The site was bought by a Russian company and Russian users now make up the majority of its base. The English- and Russian-speaking sides of LiveJournal are for all intents and purposes separate communities and rarely interact.

DreamWidth

The LiveJournal engine is open source, so anyone can create a fork. It turns out it's rather expensive in terms of server resources and bandwidth, and most have failed or become notorious for unreliability. DreamWidth was founded by ex-employees of LiveJournal with a mandate to be less stupid and evil than the various owners of LiveJournal and to take care to expand in a sustainable form. So far it's holding out quite well.

They've lured a lot of fanfic authors, as well as members of minorities thanks to their friendly diversity policies.

Google+

Google+ is going to revolutionise the way we communicate and interact online, just like Google Wave did. Generally, Google+'s main selling point is that it isn't Facebook, but it's main failing is that it isn't Facebook. Like Facebook, it allows users to organise their friends and contacts into groups so that information can only be shared with certain people; what you show your friends will be different to what you let your parents or your work colleagues see, for instance. Unlike Facebook, however, it effectively idiot-proofs this process by forcing users to use the "circles" feature, where friends are grouped (Facebook's "friend list" feature is exactly the same, but optional, so basically the Great Unwashed out there in internet-land don't know it exists).

Wannabes

Get Closer

Get Closer is a new one (as in, it's still in beta), and it's the first(?) such site looking to cash in on the "success" of social networking sites by making people buy stuff (especially Joy Division albums, judging by the name). Unlike your standard social networking sites, which is all about making people be your friends by impressing them with how gaudy and tasteless you can make your personal page, this seems to be about encouraging you to become "friends" with as much music and films as you can, by making obscure (or not so obscure) connections between them, then buying them from the UK retailer HMV (who runs the site). One thing to note is that since HMV's colors seem to be pink and black, you have a head-start in the gaudiness factor.

Diaspora

Diaspora is being touted as possible competition for Facebook, by offering a "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network"[15] Strong buzzwords, indeed. Like most free software inspired projects, it does everything the propriety program does (in this case Facebook, although it is free to use) but, somehow, much worse.[16] Unlike Facebook, which relies on centralised servers paid for by the company's advertising revenue, Diaspora is decentralised and basically requires the goodwill of users to keep them maintained, free and secure.

FetLife

Laughed off as the "Kinkster's Facebook" what many people don't realise that is FetLife is a fully functioning social network site, with many of the functions of Facebook (but not the annoying Farmville spam), with over 930,000 members. In addition, while people wait to see what Diaspora's open-source project is like, FetLife is written entirely in open-source software.[17], which they make freely available on their site. They have also delivered presentations on their software at various conferences.[18]

The site is free to use, relying on advertising revenue and unsolicited subscriptions from it's members (supporters receive additional, but non-essential functionality) and actively discourages - indeed has not enabled - meat-market-style searched by age, gender or kink.

Christian networking sites

At least fourteen Christian networking sites have sprung up. They emphasise their clean, family-friendly nature - which mostly goes only as far as removing "offensive" content.

"If you post a picture on this site, everyone in the picture must be modestly dressed (by our standards), not promoting any sinful activity (drinking, smoking, tatoos, gambling, etc), and not crude in any way (sodomites, abortion pics, etc)," says Big Baptist while Christianblog says: "We have dedicated volunteers who review each and every blog entry to make sure that all content that is posted is family safe and Christian based." - in fact they all say different versions of this, so we won't bore you with minor variations in wording. Of the others, ChristUnion has found an appropriate Biblical quote as its strap - Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ - see, the Bible foretold social networking sites! And therefore, it's true. Ditty Talk allows linking to Myspace, which kind of misses the point. The scarily-named FaithFreaks has "a network of filters and monitors", so they're either control freaks or sound engineers. Christian.com is "heavily monitored" and says It’s not "My" space; It’s "His" space! JCFaith's "about us" page is mysteriously blank, except for phone commercials.

Conservative networking sites

There are a few conservative social networking site as well. Let's Get This Right promises to link to "100's (sic) of conservative resources" and has forums, some of whose posts get up to an incredible six[19] replies. Tea Party Nation is the tea party answer to Facebook. Facebook, apparently, is part of a liberal conspiracy against conservative idiocy freedom-loving patriots. so they need their own right-wing-friendly version. [20]

Dangers?

In early 2009, during their quest to split the entire inanimate world into things that cause cancer and things that cure cancer, the Daily Mail ran a story essentially entitled "Facebook causes cancer".[21] This was based on a report by Dr Aric Sigman in the Journal of the Institute of Biology. Noted science writer, blogger, and columnist Ben Goldacre then refuted the claims, stating that Sigman had selectively quoted his evidence and ignored all the evidence that social networking use had no effect - or even a positive effect - on people's social lives, particularly those suffering from loneliness. Ben later appeared on Newsnight specifically to tear Sigman a new arsehole over the scaremongering.[22]

The main danger of social networks is, of course, that if you put stuff on the Internet, you're putting it on the Internet. Some find this concept difficult to grasp.

"Nym wars"

"Nym wars" -- short for "pseudonym wars" -- is the term applied to the effort by social networks to end the practice of allowing subscribers to use a screen name that is not their legal names.[23] While Facebook discourages the use of pseudonyms, the nym wars really took off in the summer of 2011 when Google's new social network, Google Plus, prohibited the use of any pseudonyms. Then, to ensure that this policy was not being abused, Google Plus began aborting accounts with screen names that seemed to be even remotely pseudonymous.[24]

See also

Footnotes

  1. Alexa - Myspace.com site info
  2. This auto-play feature can also act as an open invitation for viruses and other malware to just walk straight into your computer.
  3. [1]
  4. http://www.02138mag.com/magazine/article/1724.html
  5. Evil
  6. Anecdote alert: I have occasionally seen the "groups" feature glitch and display the names and profile pictures of groups that were deleted several years ago (so it's not a local cookies or temp files glitch). Although clicking on them redirects to the main page like with most deleted accounts, there is a possibility that if the titles can still be accessed via a glitch, the content is still in the "recycling bin" even after 3-4 years.
  7. http://fstdt.net/QuoteComment.aspx?QID=75302
  8. Jesus's Facebook profile.
  9. "CIA's 'Facebook' Program Dramatically Cut Agency's Cost"
  10. BBC dot.Rory - Facebook v Daily Mail
  11. BBC News - Twitter hype punctured
  12. BBC News - Twitter tweets are 40% 'babble'
  13. Okay, we made this up.
  14. Stephen Fry in a flutter at horrid tweeters on Twitter
  15. Join Diaspora's home page
  16. Facebook alternative Diaspora rolls out first code
  17. FetLife's open source Projects
  18. On-line versions of their presentations
  19. As of 17 May 2009.
  20. Teabaggers Convinced Facebook Is Liberal Honeypot
  21. How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer
  22. Ben's face halfway through Sigman talking is especially priceless.
  23. Kaste, Martin. "Who Are You, Really? Activists Fight For Pseudonyms", National Public Radio (USA) website, posted 28 September 2011, accessed 29 September 2011.
  24. Ross, Nick. "How much has Facebook just damaged Google Plus?", Australian Broadcasting Corporation website (technology and games blog), posted 14 September 2011, accessed 29 September 2011.
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