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Definition: social networking service


A platform that provides a venue for people to share activities with family, friends, colleagues and interested parties. Facebook, LinkedIn, X/Twitter and Instagram are the leading social sites in the U.S. See social network rankings.

Members create an online profile with biographical data, photos and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by making their latest thoughts public in a blog-like format or via email, instant messaging or video chat.

What began for personal use migrated to business. Companies use social sites to advertise products, gain brand recognition, as well as expand traffic to their main website. See information overload.

Social Networks vs. Social Media
Both terms are used synonymously all the time; however, technically, social networking is sharing information with followers, whereas social media is broadcasting to anyone based on a topic. See Internet forum and Reddit.

Social Networks
The premier social network, Facebook enables members to create a personal Web presence where they can post content and receive comments. Facebook provides text messaging as well as third-party news. Followers receive notices that new content has been posted. In China, the major social network is WeChat. See Facebook and WeChat.

Social Media
Social media such as X/Twitter is message broadcasting, essentially a blog with limited content. Text, images, short videos and links are created by members that followers may repost to their followers. X/Twitter has been called a "public town square." See Twitter and microblog.

How It Started
In 1997, the first social network was SixDegrees.com, named for "six degrees of separation." Lasting until 2001, it was followed by Friendster and MySpace a year later. Started by two friends, MySpace became extremely popular, and its parent company, Intermix, was acquired by News Corporation for $580 million two years after MySpace was launched. See Myspace and Friendster.

Facebook came out in 2004 targeting college students, but when opened to everyone, it grew exponentially to become the top social site. Two years later, Twitter was launched with its message broadcasting platform and created its own revolution within a short time. See social networking websites.