What Is Social Networking?
Social networking wasn't coined by teens; they don't use the term to describe their online activities. Young people just socialize. They update their profiles, post comments, blog, add friends (like buddies on a buddy list), and chat on what have become known by us adults as social-networking sites.
As we adults struggle to find the language that describes this phenomenon, teens are speeding ahead, making it up as they go, including the language and the tools and their uses. To them, these sites are just another tool for socializing. Sometimes, teens call these sites online communities, but for most of them, the line between online and offline is decidedly blurred.
Trying to define social networking is very much like trying to pin down a moving target, because it's evolving so quickly. In its earliest phase, social networking was either blogging (having an online journal or being an amateur commentator) or socializing (finding friends and connecting with them).
A blog (short for Web log) is simply a Web page anyone can create without any technical know-how. Blogs were and still are easy to do because companies have created tools that are very much like word-processing applications. By simply typing words onscreen and dragging photos from their hard drives to the page, bloggers ushered in the era of desktop publishing for the Web: All of a sudden, anyone could post a Web page, and teenagers did so with a vengeance.
A parallel development was the pure social networking (more about connecting than personal punditry) that started in the '90s but really took off in 2003 with Friendster.com (Figure 1.1).
Figure 1.1. Friendster was one of the original social-networking sites.
Meanwhile, blogging kept getting more interactive and adding more features, with young people fueling this process. They have made it as much about casual communication and socializing as it is about publishing and journaling. The teen version of blogging is now better described as social networking. Adult pundits, researchers, hobbyists, and many teens to this day continue to do the old kind of blogging: blogging with reader feedback (and now photos).