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We define societal web sites as web-based services that allow persons to ( 1 ) concept a public or semi-public profile within a delimited system. ( 2 ) joint a list of other users with whom they portion a connexion. and ( 3 ) position and track their list of connexions and those made by others within the system. The nature and terminology of these connexions may change from site to site.

While we use the term “social web site” to depict this phenomenon. the term “social networking sites” besides appears in public discourse. and the two footings are frequently used interchangeably. We chose non to use the term “networking” for two grounds: accent and range. “Networking” emphasizes relationship induction. frequently between aliens. While networking is possible on these sites. it is non the primary pattern on many of them. nor is it what differentiates them from other signifiers of computer-mediated communicating ( CMC ) .

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What makes societal web sites unique is non that they allow persons to run into aliens. but instead that they enable users to joint and do seeable their societal webs. This can ensue in connexions between persons that would non otherwise be made. but that is frequently non the end. and these meetings are often between “latent ties” ( Haythornthwaite. 2005 ) who portion some offline connexion. On many of the big SNSs. participants are non needfully “networking” or looking to run into new people ; alternatively. they are chiefly pass oning with people who are already a portion of their extended societal web. To stress this articulated societal web as a critical organizing characteristic of these sites. we label them “social web sites. ”

While SNSs have implemented a broad assortment of proficient characteristics. their anchor consists of seeable profiles that display an articulated list of Friends1 who are besides users of the system. Profiles are alone pages where one can “type oneself into being” ( Sunden. 2003. p. 3 ) . After fall ining an SNS. an person is asked to make full out signifiers incorporating a series of inquiries. The profile is generated utilizing the replies to these inquiries. which typically include forms such as age. location. involvements. and an “about me” subdivision. Most sites besides encourage users to upload a profile exposure. Some sites allow users to heighten their profiles by adding multimedia content or modifying their profile’s expression and feel. Others. such as Facebook. let users to add faculties ( “Applications” ) that enhance their profile.

The visibleness of a profile varies by site and harmonizing to user discretion. By default. profiles on Friendster and Tribe. cyberspace are crawled by hunt engines. doing them seeable to anyone. regardless of whether or non the spectator has an history. Alternatively. LinkedIn controls what a spectator may see based on whether she or he has a paid history. Sites like MySpace allow users to take whether they want their profile to be public or “Friends merely. ” Facebook takes a different approach—by default. users who are portion of the same “network” can see each other’s profiles. unless a profile proprietor has decided to deny permission to those in their web. Structural fluctuations around visibleness and entree are one of the primary ways that SNSs differentiate themselves from each other.

After fall ining a societal web site. users are prompted to place others in the system with whom they have a relationship. The label for these relationships differs depending on the site—popular footings include “Friends. ” “Contacts. ” and “Fans. ” Most SNSs require bi-directional verification for Friendship. but some do non. These one-directional ties are sometimes labeled as “Fans” or “Followers. ” but many sites call these Friends every bit good. The term “Friends” can be deceptive. because the connexion does non needfully intend friendly relationship in the mundane common sense. and the grounds people connect are varied ( boyd. 2006a ) .

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