Classification of Social Networking Sites

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Theoretical framework

This chapter provids the reader with the required theoretical foundations related to Social Networking Sites. The covered areas are CMC, Social Computing, Social Networks and Social Networking Sites. Moreover, related theories and the applied model of the survey study are introduced.

Theoretical Background
Computer Mediated Communication (CMC)

Computers and electronic networks have changed the shape of communication, and actual-ly revolutionized it. Networked organization was one of the results of this development in computers and telecommunication networks, which replaced papers by electronic forms of communications. Broadly acceptance of different types of CMC mediums increased the or-ganizations efficiency in term of communications and also decreased the cost and time in compare with the traditional way of communicating (Bordia, 1997). “Computer-mediated com-munication (CMC) systems, in a variety of forms, have become integral to the initiation, development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships.” (Walther, 2011, p. 443).
In the early 90s, Wasserman and Galaskiewicz considered CMC as a combination of tele-communication networks and computers characteristics that made creating, processing, storing, exchanging and retrieving information conceivable. Information is the mostly communicational content between people. The process of communication using CMC can overcome the barriers most likely to occur in traditional communication process, such as time, distance, cost, etc. (Wasserman and Galaskiewicz, 1994).
Ferris in the late 90s claimed that the term of CMC was considered as a new area of study and pointed to the increased number of users as a result of the lowered costs and easier ac-cess to the computer technologies. He added that this area was attended by a fast growth of scholarly study of CMC. Ferris (1997) argued that generally CMC consists of both task-related and interpersonal communication directed by computer and covered synchronous and asynchronous communication to and through personal or mainframe computer, such as communicating via chatting or email. Herring (2004) compared CMC with previous communication technologies and added that CMC in the late 1990s was in some respects basic and fragmented. It was mostly text-based, and its various modes were accessed by different means. Furthermore, Thurlow, et al. (2004) added any type of communication ful-filled by humans assisted by the computers, either completely or partly is known as CMC.
Widely acceptance of CMC and rapid growth of internet access created more and more possibilities for people with different roles in society. Scholars discovered that CMC influ-ences people’s daily lives. For example, people with health-related concerns for whom it is difficult or impossible to have a face to face communication are engaged to participate in supportive communication with a network of individuals coping with similar problems (Wright & Bell, 2003).
Some of the studies are investigating differences between groups using CMC and argued that minorities and immigrants are more likely to use CMC to recompense the lack of so-cial capital and are more motivated to use CMC to keep existing family and friendships ties (Mesch, 2012). “In societies that reward individuals differentially according to income, prestige, and pow-er, stratification systems result in a differential ability of individuals to gain access to jobs and residential lo-cations (Massey, 2007). As a result, individual social associations tend to be with others of similar social characteristics such as age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, religion and nationality.” (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2002; Mesch & Talmud, 2006, 2010). (Mesch, 2012, p. 321).
Mesch, Talmund and Quan-Hasse (2012) pinpointed the dramatically increased use of so-cial media by young people as the first adopters and the most frequent users of email, social network sites, and instant messaging as a key tool for students to stay connected with exist-ing friends and family, as well as to create new friendships.

Social Computing

Social computing is considered as an emerging (Vannoy & Palivia, 2010) and global (Pascu, 2008) phenomenon. Vannoy and Palivia (2010) believe that a combination of human inno-vation with the internet, networking and communication technologies have procreated a social and business networking platform, formation of community, and communication that is known as social computing. Masunaga (2012) examined two senses regarding social computing in order to investigate a formal model of it. One is the weaker sense of social computing that refers to the concept of making available social functions, i.e. the commu-nication between human over the internet, or creating community and publishing the in-formation via the Web, which is very conscious of society. The other one is the stronger sense of social computing that “refers to the realization of a function involving democratic decision-making or public opinion formation or knowledge formulation by a group of people belonging to the web so-ciety” (p. 317). Pascu (2008) has selected seven areas of content creation in social computing as blogging, podcasting, multi -media sharing, collaborative user-generated content, social networking, social tagging and social gaming.
By reviewing the literature on social computing, it appears that these systems are growing in popularity and influencing the society, continuously across the globe (Huijboom, Broek, Frissen, Kool, Kotterink, Nielsen & Millard, 2009; Byrnside, 2008). Huijboom et al., (2009) enumerated four categories of social computing impact as political, social-cultural, organi-zational and legal impact.

Social Networks and Social Networking Sites (SNSs)

Whenever the term Web 2.0 is mentioned, the phrase social networking will not be far be-hind. Social networking websites are regularly topics of discussion in the general media (Stroud, 2008). Gunawardena et al., (2009) defined social networking as “the practice of ex-panding knowledge by making connections with individuals of similar interests. In the Web 2.0 environ-ment, social networking is linked to technological services and software that make it possible for people to communicate with others from anywhere, at any time.” (p. 4).
Anderson (2009) considered social networking as a term that is in common use only since 2003. This term has been defined by many researchers and generally it refers to networked tools that allow people to meet, interact and share ideas, artifacts and interests with each other. Social networking applications have been phenomenally popular with sites such as Facebook, MySpace, SecondLife and LinkedIn that reached user numbers in the tens of millions.
According to Li (2011), with the propagation of Web 2.0 technologies, there has been a significant growth of the number of people contributing in online SNs. These SN web sites provide users with a suite of valuable features at no or minimal cost. For example, some of the essential SNSs features are blogging, grouping, networking and instant messaging. The SNS features are not limited to only these features though (Li, 2011; Zhou, Xu, Li, Josang, Cox, 2012). The new generation of Web applications is no longer read only and the Web users are no longer only consumers of information, but the “producers of information” (Zhou et al., 2012).
As mentioned earlier, SNSs have become more and more popular with the rise of Web 2.0, the second generation of web-based communities, with increased opportunity of collabora-tion and sharing between users through various applications. These sites are mostly popular among youth who use these new technologies to make instant communities of practice (Bosch, 2009). According to the literature review, it has been claimed that these online communication forms are mostly popular among adolescents and emerging adults (Subrahmanyam, Reich, Waechter & Espinoza, 2008). Lin and Lu (2011) added that SNS is a virtual environment that allows its users to connect to a social network and enables them to present themselves by sharing text, images and videos with their friends, like other members of the site and so on. These websites have turned into the established place for keeping contact with old friends and meeting new acquaintances (Aimeur et al., 2010).
Typically the research on social network sites employ measures that treat SNS use as similar and homogenous, however the user-base, user practices, and feature sets of these tools are increasingly various (Smock, Ellison, Lampe& Wohn, 2011). Smock et al., (2011) explained that SNSs provide users with a diversity of communication tools. For example, Facebook permits users to broadcast messages to large audiences using status updates and wall posts, while also providing features, such as chat, for messages the user wants to keep private.
Whereas the diversity of features available on SNSs allow for similarly diverse forms of communication, previous research addressing the motivations for using SNSs have not ful-ly considered the possibility that users may be attending to different features for different reasons.
Li (2011) take another view of these websites and argue that SNSs are composed of users who interact with each other in an online community. Therefore, users’ behavior should be influenced not only by their own motivations, but also by other members within their online SNs. Regarding the role of the members, Stroud (2008) add that the members of so-cial networks are driving these sites and the owners of these sites form the style of the net-work, provide the functionality, creates/imports content and set the rules. But it is the on-going levels of activity of the network users that determine the site’s remaining success. These sites are mainly used for casual social interaction and social relationship mainte-nance, have received increasing attention recently in IT research. By reviewing the litera-ture, Li (2011) found out that “some studies examined the direct effects of technology acceptance factors, knowledge sharing factors (altruism, reputation, etc.), social influence factors (social norms and community identification), critical mass, playfulness, trust, user satisfaction, self-efficacy, personal outcome expectations, and the indirect effects of performance accomplishment, social persuasion, information quality, source credi-bility and disconfirmation function on usage behavior (Hsu and Lin, 2008; Jin et al., 2009; Lu and Hsiao, 2007; Sledgianowski and Kulviwat, 2009). Other studies explored the role of personality traits in one’s usage of these web sites (Lu and Hsiao, 2010; Ross et al., 2009). Another area of study is to look into the technological aspect of social software (Du and Wagner, 2006; Gao et al., 2010; Ip and Wagner, 2008)” (p. 564).
As claimed by other researchers, over the past decade, young people’s lives have been in-fluenced by using the Internet to communicate. SNSs can be considered as the latest online communication tool that enables users to create a public or semi-public profile, create and view their own as well as other users’ online social networks and interact with people in their networks (Subrahmanyam, et al., 2008). Adolescents and young adults in college are the major users of the Internet relative to the general population, and use it widely for communication with peers. Lin and Lu (2011) also believe that as SNSs developed very fast in recent years, they have become the main media used by people to develop their online personal networks. These sites have influenced the daily life of their users and rapidly be-came an important social platform for CMC. Some of the successful examples could be Fa-cebook, MySpace and Friendster. Nowadays, SNSs are considered as the world’s fastest developing personal networking tool as they provide a new method of communicating, en-gaging computers as a collaborative tool to speed up group formation and extend the group scope and its influence. Livingstone (2008) also stated that the explosion in social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and Friendster is extensively consid-ered as an exciting opportunity, especially for youth.
According to Lange (2007), since SNSs obtain users and visibility, a wide range of websites have applied the features of SNSs. For example, YouTube started as a video sharing plat-form, but it also offers users a personal profile page – called channel page – and added the feature of friending. Based on the research done on SNSs, the features and practices of so-cial network sites differ across different sites.


It makes sense to understand the history of social networks on the Internet. The use of the internet as a networking mechanism begun long before the birth of the web. Usenet is a distributed messaging system that has operated since 1979. It provides a forum for people to discuss online and to share rich media file. Unlike today’s social networking sites, it is an “open” distributed system that is not owned or controlled by anyone or any company (Stroud, 2008).
According to Chen (2011), in the early 1990s, when the Internet was called the World Wide Web, people created personal connections with each other through computer-conferencing systems. Ho (2012), claim that the connection and interaction features of a website are the main criteria that should be considered to determine whether or not a website is a SNS. However, it is important to keep in mind that these features predate the manifestation of SNS and already existed on the Internet for quite a long time. For example, many dating and community websites comprised the use of profiles as early as the 1990s. Moreover, In-stant Messaging services such as AIM4 provided the concept of a list of Friends (one-way friends), while these lists were not made to be visible to others. Moreover, SixDegrees that was launched in 1997 was the first social networking site (Ho, 2012; Stroud, 2008; Chen, 2011). This website allowed users to create profiles, list their Friends and in 1998 it includ-ed the functionalities allowing users to overpass the Friends lists of their Friends. Stroud (2008) added that at the height of its success, the site had one million fully registered mem-bers. The site was sold in 2000 for $125m.

1 Introduction 
1.1 Background
1.2 Problem
1.3 Purpose and research questions
1.4 Delimitations
1.5 Definitions
2 Theoretical framework
2.1 Theoretical Background
2.2 History
2.3 Classification of Social Networking Sites
2.4 Advantages of SNS
2.5 Privacy risks in SNS
2.6 Framework for the empirical study
3 Methods
3.1 Research design
3.2 Data collection
3.3 Data analysis
3.4 Ethical aspects
4 Results of the data collection
5 Analysis
5.1 Use of SNS and SNS apps
5.2 Preferred type of interaction
5.3 Ease of use
5.4 Uses and gratification theory
5.5 Purposes of use of SNS
5.6 Influence of SNS
6 Conclusion
6.1 Results discussion
6.2 Methods discussion and implications for practice
6.3 Future research
7 List of references
The impact of social networking technology on students

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