These days, it is said that if you are not on Facebook, you do not exist. Has our online visibility become so important that our own existence is being threatened? Have we created a virtual monster in social networking sites that we are being known and recognized only by our availability on such sites? How is that something that was invented for socializing and connecting with friends and people with similar activities and interests, has become so dominant that we have started to live under its dominating shadow?
Right from the time when the World Wide Web (www) allowed for forming generalized communities like Geocities.com and Theglobe.com, there has been a sharp increase in young programmers taking to create a medium for online socializing and exchanging ideas. This culminated into the start of Friendster service where one could find and get associated with friends via the online medium. Later MySpace, LinkedIn and Bebo services also started, each with a target user base but the basic premise of a social networking. MySpace had more inclination towards music and videos whereas LinkedIn was more concentrated with working professionals and worked as a medium for working professionals to interact and get recommendation and enhance their careers. Then social networking services like Orkut and Facebook came into existence. Launched in 2004, by a group of Harvard students, Facebook literally turned the tables upside down when it came to the number of hits and the amount of user base it generated. Orkut, which was once a major player in the US market, is now only relegated to Brazil and India where it still enjoys a lion’s share of the social networking pie. Facebook has been a hit all over the world and now has the maximum number of users in the world. Twitter, another social networking site which incorporated micro-blogging as a feature has been a run-away hit among celebrities and the commons alike.
The business model of these social networking sites is more or less the same as they generate revenue by using their sites as advertisement spaces. This way, the advertisers can also reach to specific people and target advertising can be achieved. For its users these social networking sites have given a medium to interact and get in touch with long-lost friends and family members. In some cases, corporate recruiters look for user profiles in social networking sites and go through their recommendations and previous work history. The novel developments in information technology and software programming have made it possible for people to share photos, videos, links etc with friends and family which has made the world so much of a connected place for all of us. Social networking sites have also provided a forum for people, especially the youth, to air their opinions on variety of issues. More often than not, people have been found debating and dissecting current events in business, sports, politics etc. This has surely made people more vibrant and vocal about social causes. There are online communities and public forums where users can sign up for a social cause and contribute towards it. On these communities, users can also pose queries regarding their careers, education and get consulted by experienced personnel in their respective fields. There have also been instances when companies have used social networking as a medium to inform their employees about some untoward incidents in the city for safety and security of the employees.
Social networking has brought about a paradigm shift in how we access the internet and it has thus become an inseparable part of our lives. At the same time, some concerned voices have been raised about the ill effects of social networking on today’s youth and the working class. Various studies have established that almost 77% of the IT professionals use social networking during office hours and this has brought down the productivity of employees. In a recent example, Facebook was banned by the State Secretariat of Maharashtra due to its incessant use by its employees during office hours. These sites have slowly become an addiction for people as they are wasting their time playing games, or chatting on the social networking sites. There have been massive disputes regarding user privacy as a lot of private and sensitive information can be shared by the users and can be used by anti-social elements for nefarious activities. For this particular reason, users have to maintain utmost care while sharing any personal information on the web. There have also been allegations that our personal information is being shared with marketing agencies so that they can reach out to us directly. Though social networking sites have refuted such claims, but the jury is out on the issue. Getting logged in has become so much of a daily chore, that people are logged on to the web aimlessly. From schools, college campuses to work places, the phenomenon has caught up with everybody. This is going to be more of a problem for India, as alone has only about 50 million people using internet. With a large population base, advancement in broadband and communication technologies, increased web usage through smart phones, India finds itself in a unique position of social networking crossroads.
We need to strike a balance between our necessities and our needs. Too much of anything is bad and social networking is no exception. It has some features that could revolutionize the way we interact and grow as societies and cultures, and at the same time we can implode with over indulgence. The era of social networking is still in its nascent stage and there is a lot of potential in it to make our living standards even more comfortable and enjoyable. We made social networking and not the other way round; and for mankind’s benefit it has to remain that way.
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