When the Web became popular in the mid-1990s, it enabled people to share information in ways that were never possible before. But as limitless as the possibilities seemed, there was a personal aspect that was lacking. While users could create home pages and post their own content on the Web, these individual sites lacked a sense of community. In the early 2000s, the Web became much more personal as social networking websites were introduced and embraced by the masses.
Social networking websites allow users to be part of a virtual community. The two most popular sites are currently Facebook and MySpace. These websites provide users with simple tools to create a custom profile with text and pictures. A typical profile includes basic information about the user, at least one photo, and possibly a blog or other comments published by the user. Advanced profiles may include videos, photo albums, online applications (in Facebook), or custom layouts (in MySpace). After creating a profile, users can add friends, send messages to other users, and leave comments directly on friends' profiles. These features provide the building blocks for creating online communities.
Thanks to social networking websites, users can share their lives with other people without needing to develop and publish their own home pages. These websites also provide an important linking element between users that allows friends to communicate directly with each other. Because people often have friends from different places and different times in their lives, social networking sites provide an opportunity to keep in touch with old friends and to meet new people as well. Of course, this means that people you don't know may also be able to view your profile page. Therefore, if you join a social networking website, it is a good idea to review the privacy settings for your account. And more importantly, remember to always use discretion in what you publish on your profile.