The Internet is booming once again, but this time it's very different.
At the cutting edge of all the action are end users like you and me who have been empowered by new technological innovations that place the emphasis and focus on what the user wants to do and say, rather than the technology itself. Popular media has christened this revolution as "Web 2.0".
This week we take a look at one of the most dynamic new applications of new internet-based services that has been enabled by Web 2.0 technology – Social networking. Contrary to how it is widely perceived, social networking sites aren't the domain of bored teenagers or frustrated adolescents.
When it comes to making it irresistibly fashionable even for the not so technology savvy masses to participate in the Web 2.0 revolution, social networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Profile Heaven have been at the front line, making it easier, and appealing for everyone to establish a creative Web presence. In just three years, social networking has grown from being an abstract idea to part of popular culture.
MySpace has already amassed 130 million users, with a quarter of a million new users flocking to the network every day. When News Corp paid $580 million for MySpace in July 2005, it was seen mainly as a land grab for ad space to reach out to the out-of-reach youth consumers. News Corp executives have described the acquisition as a goldmine for ideas and as a barometer of the Zeitgeist, or "spirit of the time," measuring the sum total of current interests and values.
The company aims to use the site to cross-market its other media offerings and build a buzz around its own brands and those of advertisers.
Brand-conscious multinational companies such as Coca-Cola and Apple are anxious to use the social networks to keep in touch with teens and young adults who are migrating from the once fertile land in front of the television to the rather secluded forests in front of the computer table.
Although far smaller in scale than the likes of MySpace, professional networks are growing too, putting like-minded business people in touch with one another – from finding a supplier to a new managing director.
And, of course, social networks are a fantastic way to promote yourself – if you are so inclined. As ever, it's who you know, not what you know that can make the critical difference in landing a job. Social networks are an extension of those offline, but they're much more closely linked and easier to search.
The combined voices of the networked are increasingly shaping life offline too.
Some networking sites let you upload your music and videos on to your profile and share them with others. Unknown singers and bands are pulling millions of eager listeners to their online 'gigs' on social networking sites and the big recording labels have started to stand up and take notice.
While the world of social networking – like text messaging before it – might have grown on the back of adolescents' desire for cheap, creative communications, the medium has grown into something far more pervasive. It has evolved and grown on the backs of their pubescent audience into a communication and entertainment medium that is seen by big businesses, media giants and the nervous advertising industry of the world as their next big challenge.