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techESC: What was old is new again

Technology gives modern spin to social networking

August 12, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

Social networking, in some form or another, has been around for as long as man. It's not hard to imagine cave dwellers who shared a common bond gathering together for a conversation about the day's events - even if grunting and elaborate charades was the only means of communication.

Perhaps the first person to identify and label a form of social networking was Auguste Comte back in 1853. He observed that one person in a certain social system were interconnected with others in the same system.

It was an observation way ahead of its time, and good old Auguste didn't even have a modem.

Wikipedia, the online mecca for information both accurate and questionable, defines a modern social network as: A social structure which, in general, facilitates communication between a group of individuals or organizations, that are related by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as: a special or common interest; shared values; visions, ideas, or perhaps ideals; financial exchange, friendship, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade.

Auguste was, indeed, way ahead of the curve. But since this column is more about technology, let's fast forward more than a few decades and all the way to the 1970s.

Other than just disco, which is the best invention man (or woman) ever created, folks started piecing together integrated circuits and a bunch of wires to make their own, early, personal computers.

Fact Box

- Getting Geeky -

"Ning" allows anyone to make a social network about anything.

The great feature about Ning is that a person with little to no web design abilities can easily set up their own social network complete with blogs, photos, videos, chatting and more.

Let's say, for instance, the local garden club wants to keep in touch, share pictures of their floral creations and advertise community events. Ning would allow these members, who all share the same interests, to have a nice little home on the Internet. Members could keep up with one another and the Web site could attract members of the public who might find some interest with the group's happenings.

Many individuals, groups and companies are already taking advantage of Ning's services. Thousands of social networks powered by Ning have cropped up since its inception in 2004. If you are a soon-to-be bride, into zombies or still have a crush on The New Kids on the Block, there's home for you on Ning.

And if you want to start your own social network, being able to have your own brand, your members, your multimedia and your content is a great way to make a home on the Internet.

Visit the Web site for more information.

Trying to find a way to communicate over standard telephone lines, a couple of kids in the Chicago area found a marriage between hardware and software for the first bulletin board system. The modem allowed data transfer from one point to another.

Hobbyists all over the world started to create their own BBS systems and users would dial into the centralized computer to share files, post messages and create new software.

As the young hobbyists grew older, they recognized a possible business opportunity. CompuServe and America Online came to the forefront in the 1980s, and file sharing, e-mail and data transfers became more and more popular. Groups of like-minded computer users would often create their own chat rooms inside the online communities.

As the Internet boom continued, the ideas took another leap forward. Instead of creating a chat room or social network inside AOL or CompuServe, the idea of using a dedicated Web site was born. Yahoo! and a host of other services hit the scene in the 1990s and Yahoo! Groups became a gathering place for many.

Technology, however, marches on. Most consider as one of the forerunners in the emerging online social networking presence. People could log on, create a profile, search for long-lost classmates and renew old acquaintances.

Since was an almost instant success, others joined the virtual world in rapid succession. Sites such as Friendster, LinkedIn, Skyblog, MySpace all started between 2000 and 2004.

Facebook came along in 2004 as a Harvard-only service but was so popular and well-loved on campus that it expanded rapidly. It became open to the general public in 2006.

Online social networks became a big business. Some consider the Flickr photo sharing site and its video equivalent, YouTube, as other avenues for social networking.

There remains one constant - technology continues to evolve.

In 2006, Twitter has found its own voice.

According to company officials, Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called "tweets" of 140 characters or fewer. These messages are posted to a profile or a blog, sent to followers, and searchable on Twitter search.

It's a long way from Auguste Comte's original observations in the 1850s, but if he lived in today's world, perhaps he'd be tweeting his ideas - 140 characters at a time.

(McElwain is a technology writer and can be reached on Twitter via @mdmcelwain or at his e-mail address.)

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