Social networks and sharing sites
The number of people using online social networks has exploded in the last decade: more than a billion people now use Facebook, which equates to about one seventh of the world’s population.
There are also a whole host of other social networks, and choosing between them isn’t like choosing a brand of coffee – they each have a different offering and demographic appeal. The products on the table above are not ‘equivalents’, so check the list below to see what they offer.
Who does what
Music sharing sites: Bandcamp (provides music downloads from artists who have the flexibility to charge whatever price for their music they want, or let fans name their own price), Mixcloud, Myspace, Soundcloud
Social networks: Crabgrass, Diaspora, Foursquare, Facebook, Google+
Photo and video sharing sites: Fotolog, Imgur, Photobucket, Pinterest, Vimeo, Carousel, Vine, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube
News aggregators: Reddit
Publish articles/share documents and infographics: Hubpages, Slideshare
Sending messages to friends: Snapchat, Whatsapp
Store your information externally: Dropbox
Professional connections: LinkedIn
Microblogging: Twitter, Tumblr
Online calling and video calling: Skype
Internet encyclopedia: Wikipedia
Even where there is some equivalence, the utility of social networks is often limited by the number of people or type of people that sign up.
Diaspora, for example, has a similar purpose as Facebook but has only been adopted by a million people. If a lot of your friends are part of that million, perhaps it would be of use to you. But if not, it won’t have the same utility even if it has as similar functionality. You could, however, use it to connect with new people.
Diaspora is organised into discrete 'pods' or groups, and you can join or create these. The largest of these, with over 800,000 members at the time or writing is closed to new members.
Crabgrass is an open source web application from the riseup.net collective. It is designed as a secure and private platform for organising groups and networks, tailored to the needs of the global justice movement.
Myspace was many people’s first online social network, allowing users to easily create their own internet profile and connect with others. Within ten years the company was bought and sold by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, during which time its value plummeted from $580m to $35m. Facebook had arrived on the scene.
Facebook’s friendly public face is that of the world’s youngest self-made billionaire – Mark Zuckerberg, who today at the age of 30, is estimated to be worth $30.6 billion. Zuckerberg founded the company in 2004 along with fellow students at Harvard but a less well-known part of Facebook’s history is its connections, via individuals, with the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel.
Editor of Idler magazine, Tom Hodgkinson, has researched these links:
“Various people in the US Defence department had proposed a computerised database of all American citizens. The idea was rejected on the grounds of infringement of civil liberty.
But with Facebook, the commercial world has been able to achieve something of equal if not bigger scale with no trouble at all because people simply volunteered all their information for free.”
In 2012, Facebook manipulated nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds so that only either positive or negative posts appeared, in order to see if the emotions were ‘contagious’. Here again there were was a sniff of US military involvement.
One of the academic researchers involved in the study, based at Cornell University, stated on their profile that the project had received funding from the US government Army Research Office. But the post was later amended to say that there was no such funding.
Regardless, the potential for individuals to be manipulated through social networks is clearly going to be of interest to governments, particularly as a result of the part they played in the uprising across the Arab world and the riots in England in 2011.
Social networks enabled these uprisings to spread at a speed and intensity not previously possible.
Coupled with their ability to connect people and spread ideas, the brave new world of social networks has clearly got its advantages.
This product guide is part of a Special Report on the Internet. See what's in the rest of the report.