The past couple of years have seen an explosion of sites that are known as Community or Social Networking websites. These sites are intrinsically involved in the rapid development of the Web 2.0 phenomena, hence our interest in them.
No doubt, if you are familiar with Social Networking sites, and have perhaps used them before, you will already be fully aware of their levels of popularity and the reason for such popularity.
There is just something about these websites that draw in millions of Internet users.
So, what exactly is a Social Networking site?
Well, as with the majority of the sites themselves, the explanation or definition of what a Social Networking website is, is extremely simple.
It is a site that you (generally) sign up for as a member, where you can meet other individuals from all four corners of the globe, who share an interest in whatever the basic theme or topic of the site is.
It is a site that allows you to interact with anyone and everyone who is online, and who shares your interest in almost anything!
Most of these sites require only the most basic knowledge of a PC and the Internet to work with as well. This simplicity hugely enhances their accessibility, as there is no techno-babble in the way of joining in.
In addition to being easy to navigate, the best social networking websites also make it so much easier to make new friends online, by ensuring that the people who are site members are of a like mind, with matching interests.
This may, to a certain extent, sound similar to the old chat rooms that use to proliferate all over the net, and to some degree, that is true.
The main difference is that Social Networking sites encourage members to create detailed online profiles that will allow anyone looking for online friends to have a pretty good idea of the person that they are considering communicating with, before they do so.
Another possible reason why Social Networking sites are popular is because the majority are free to use, although most will require you to register before you can become involved.
This, however, should not be a concern, as it is done to prevent abuse of the networking community and to reduce the risk (e.g. of Spam) to individual members.
Some sites, on the other hand, require a small Membership fee, although the majority that do allow some kind of free trial period, so that you can accurately gauge whether membership of that particular site is for you, or not.
Now, many people will not see the sense in joining a paid membership Social Networking site, when there are hundreds of free alternatives.
Members of such sites will, however, point out that this fee requirement keeps the membership free of people who sign-up so that they can send other members details of their latest money making opportunity and so on.
In other words, these paid sites retain a degree of exclusivity that ensures that all members stay on-topic
Many of the free sites focus on a particular group of people, sometimes determined by serious topics such as religion or politics, sometimes by less serious topics like favorite sports or types of music.
By focusing in this way, the sites involved can seek out special offers and deals for their members, knowing that such offers will be of interest to almost all members of that group.
For example, a Social Networking site that specializes in, say, English Premier League football (soccer), might offer a special prize competition open to all members, to win a signed jersey form one of the top EPL players.
In this way, the site makes membership more attractive to both new and existing members, and further ensures that the membership is a group of focused interests.
Social Networking sites are currently exploding all over the net, and are likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, adding further fuel to the fire that is Web 2.0.