Social Network Sites: A Definition
While we use the term “social network site” to describe this phenomenon, the term “social networking sites” also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. We chose not to employ the term “networking” for two reasons: emphasis and scope. “Networking” emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers. While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC).
While SNSs have implemented a wide variety of technical features, their backbone consists of visible profiles that display an articulated list of Friends1 who are also users of the system. Profiles are unique pages where one can “type oneself into being” (Sundén, 2003, p. 3). After joining an SNS, an individual is asked to fill out forms containing a series of questions. The profile is generated using the answers to these questions, which typically include descriptors such as age, location, interests, and an “about me” section. Most sites also encourage users to upload a profile photo. Some sites allow users to enhance their profiles by adding multimedia content or modifying their profile’s look and feel. Others, such as Facebook, allow users to add modules (“Applications”) that enhance their profile.
Timeline of the launch dates of many major SNSs and dates when community sites re-launched with SNS features
After joining a social network site, users are prompted to identify others in the system with whom they have a relationship. The label for these relationships differs depending on the site—popular terms include “Friends,”“Contacts,” and “Fans.” Most SNSs require bi-directional confirmation for Friendship, but some do not. These one-directional ties are sometimes labeled as “Fans” or “Followers,” but many sites call these Friends as well. The term “Friends” can be misleading, because the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied (boyd, 2006a).