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Social Networking

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Citizen journalism. Social networking. User-generated media. We've all heard the buzzwords that have been thrown around in a vague attempt to define the future generation of the Internet. But how far do those sound bites really capture what the next iteration of the web is about, and how far are they quick fix phrases for trends that will only become apparent in the long-term? Join us as we take a ride through the brave new frontier of the new net.

Us Brits have been going to the pub for a chat and a pint since time immemorial, but it’s the application of this beer/chat interface to the web that has gotten pundits excited about how average web surfers are going to change the net over the next decade.

Online chat has been around for longer than the Internet itself - the first online activity was conversing on bulletin boards back in the 80s. Through the 90s we saw the steady rise of IRC chatrooms, then web-based forums, then instant messaging. Communicating and interacting with your network of friends has been getting progressively easier and, as a corollary, more popular. How does communication change from hereon in?

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MySpace is rather like a massive bar where people can meet others with shared interests.
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The term social networking has been co-opted in to be a shorthand for the next generation of Internet chat. How can we improve interaction on the web? There are several ways. The first is to make it easier to find your friends and make new friends. This is where websites like MySpace have so far prospered. MySpace allows you to make your own personal homepage in a community of millions, where you list your thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, tastes and attitudes. With millions of people all doing the same, it's easy to find people that you are sure to get along with. Integrated with this friend-finding community is a system that makes it easy for pals to chat and comment on each other's lives, bringing people together in one massive community. Humans are naturally drawn to each other and to interaction, so this is seen to be a good thing for us to improve going forwards.

How about making it easier for you to add your thoughts to an existing discussion about a topic? As creatures, humans always feel the need to expand our expertise and knowledge, and joining a common conversation about a world event or another opinion can be rewarding. More and more media outlets are making news a two-way conversation, rather than just a one-way lecture. Comments systems are ubiquitous across the” blogosphere” and are now beginning to make their way into the mainstream media. An easy-to-use comments system can give users a great experience when it comes to reading the thoughts of others about a topic and contributing their own voice and experience to a topic. See, for example, the BBC, where comments about an article published by the journalists can often generate as much insight into the British populous as the article itself.

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The Have Your Say forum on the BBC allows people to listen to each other’s comments about topical news matters.
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Those in business (marketing and media, especially) view social networking as an absolutely massive phenomenon that must be harnessed. It's not hard to see why. Where people gather and are able to communicate based on those interests, you create groups with common values and interests. Those kinds of groups are very easy to market products to. Got a group of people congregated around a common hobby of mountain biking? They are surely a prime target to market mountain bike parts to - it's a ready-made audience.

Social networks can also do your marketing for you. Where a group of people gets excited about a certain product, they can generate far more buzz by 'viral' word of mouth than a company's PR department can. By encouraging people with an interest, and harnessing their networks and contacts, popularity can be manufactured with minimal effort from marketeers. One only has to look at Snakes on a Plane, the new Samuel L Jackson film, for an example of this. The main site is a barebones affair, with prominent links going out to fan sites where the film is explained and discussed with vehement enthusiasm. Embracing those who want to do the job of marketing is a no-brainer.

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