The global system of networked computers known as the Internet has changed many features of modern society and social interaction. The online distribution and promotion of goods and services, for example, has influenced most of the companies and has radically transformed them. Together with the commerce-oriented technological improvement (e-commerce) has been an increase in what has been called “social media.” The greatest improvement related to social media is the rise of social network sites (SNSs), such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Plus. Even though SNSs first introduced in 1997, they became a “viral” phenomenon in 2003. A few years later, many of people of all ages around the world have joined SNSs (Anderson & Bernoff, 2010). At the very beginning of this phenomenon, terms varied widely with the compatible use of “social networking sites,” “online social networks” or even simply, “social networks” to refer to a diffuse and sometimes doubtful, range of sites and services (Ellison et al., 2013). The three defining aspects of a social network site seem to be the profile, the connections lists, and the functional ability to manage those connections. While social network sites have rose, the salience of these features has changed.
A Public Profile
The self-representation in online media offers to people many possibilities to construct a representation of how they would like to be recognized. In some cases, an online identity is clearly linked to the “real” identity, for instance, online chatting platforms represent someone who is, probably, available for future offline interactions (Ellison, Hancock, & Toma, 2012). Furthermore, in other cases the connection to an offline presence is less noticeable. Yet, in all cases, making oneself visible to others requires the representation of a digital identity.
The “Friends” List
The ability to present someone as a public contact or “Friend” and create a list that constitutes someone’s network on the social media platform is the key differentiating aspect of SNSs. Past communication tools allowed individuals to create private lists of contacts, such as a close friends list on a chatroom, or to join a group of contacts that were shared by others, but social media platforms nowadays prolonged the ability of creating a publicly visible, personally list of contacts (Ellison et al, 2013).
View and Manage Connections
When people first started using SNSs, the ability to manage someone’s own connections and those of others was a critical and defining component of SNSs. Yet, as profiles faded, friends’ lists have become more infrastructural; traversing connections has lost its salience as the core participation activity (Ellison et al., 2013). The ability to have access to others’ contact lists was innovative and important in several ways. It allowed users to find common friends easily, so lowering the barriers to contact with other users. Moreover, it enabled people to easily see the relationships between others, to find old friends and colleagues, and to navigate through the network enhancing social interactions.
Anderson, J. and Bernoff, J. (2010). ‘A Global Update of Social Technographics’. Forrester Research Report. September 28.
Ellison, N. B. & Boyd, D. (2013). Sociality Through Social Network Sites. In Dutton, W.H. (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 151-172.
Ellison, N. B., Hancock, J. T. and Toma, C. L. (2012). ‘Profile as Promise: A Framework for Conceptualizing Veracity in Online Dating Self-Presentations’. New Media & Society.