19 November 2007. Social networking sites are among the most talked-about areas of content growth on the Internet. The term
"social network" was coined in the mid-1950s by sociologist J. A. Barnes to describe interactions between
people in the real world. When applied to the Web, it refers to Web sites where individuals with similar
personal and/or professional interests can create an online
"profile" and share information about those
interests so others can read about them.
Friendster (http://www.friendster.com) was
one of the first sites referred to by the "social
network" label; however, later arrivals such as
MySpace (http://www.myspace.com) and
(http://www.facebook.com) have become better
known. Most of these sites give users the ability to post text,
images, sound, and other information to their profiles. They often also include the ability to create a blog
and/or chat with other users. Classmates.com, which offers many of these functions, pre-dates those other sites,
but was launched long before the "social network" label was applied to Web sites.
Recently, attorneys have been able to find information in social networking profiles that has made a difference
in the outcomes of their cases. For example, Santa Barbara, California prosecutors said that information a
woman posted about her partying lifestyle on MySpace.com was the difference between seeking a prison
sentence rather than probation in a drunken driving crash that had killed her passenger.
Knowing how to mine this wealth of information that people post about themselves (or what their friends
post about them) can be a boon to online researchers needing to find out background information on people,
or to help locate someone who has gone missing.