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In this lesson you’ll learn what social networks are, where they came from, and how they are built. Also, take a quiz to see if you have what it takes to be a good social networker.

Introduction to Social Networks

If you’re on Facebook, keep in mind that so are 1.15 billion other people throughout the world. In fact, 72% of all Internet users are active on social media today, indulging in social interactions and developing personal relationships.

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But you don’t always have to go online to be exposed to social networks, as they come in a multitude of formats.

Definition of Social Networks

Social networks are simply networks of social interactions and personal relationships. Think about your group of friends and how you got to know them. Maybe you met them in elementary school, or maybe you met them through a hobby or through your church. Either way, you were exposed to social networks: meeting other individuals in a social situation, while developing strong personal bonds over time.

History of Social Networks

Social networking isn’t just a term for the 21st century.

In fact, social networking dates back to 40,000 years ago when cavemen would draw on the walls of caves, depicting animals in order to communicate and ‘network’ with other cavemen. The Romans also indulged in social networking around approximately 700 B.C.E.

Rome was the center of communication and networking for everything that dealt with commerce, religion, politics, and even prostitution, so this makes a lot of sense. Since then, societies in different countries became more modern and pushed for social networks through town criers (in the 15th century), newspapers (in the 17th century), pen pal programs (in 1938), and electronics (in 1979).

Social Network Theory

The Social Network Theory (SNT) examines different networks of relationships between individuals and the common factors that bring them together. In a scientific form, SNT views relationships between objects, which are labeled as ‘nodes’. Oftentimes, scientists using SNT will investigate the correlation between the nodes and the relationship that links them together. For example, imagine that you’re standing in a room with another person. You and the other person are considered the nodes, and the relationship that links you together is the fact that you’re standing in the same room.

Of course, social networks can be more complex than this, but they all begin from the principle of objects/nodes and relationship variables.Although Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies first chartered social network theories in the late 1890s, major developments occurred later in the 1930s, specifically by Jacob Moreno. Moreno investigated social relationships by recording and analyzing the social interaction of small groups in classroom settings.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

You may have heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a popular concept foreshadowed by the movie star Kevin Bacon. This game allows movie buffs to find the shortest path between not-so-famous actors and Kevin Bacon. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a runoff from the social networking theory called Six Degrees of Separation.

Social networking theorists purport that any two individuals on earth are linked by six or fewer acquaintances. For example, according to this concept, there are only six people standing between you and the President of the United States!

Types of Social Networks

There are many types of social networks throughout society. Sit for a moment and think about different areas of your life: school, work, family, etc. These are all types of social networks – many of which may overlap into each other, demonstrating the complexity and fascination of a social network.

Remember how you’re probably one of the 1.15 billion people on Facebook? This is another strong example of a social network that has boomed since the beginning of the 21st century. Since 1979, electronic forms of social networking have boomed, starting with CompuServe and MySpace, and moving to other social networking applications such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. All of these electronic social networking sites allow you to build, grow, and communicate with other like-minded people.

Lesson Summary

Social networks are simply a network of social interactions and personal relationships. They come in a variety of formats and have been around for over 40,000 years. Starting from simple cave drawings to becoming a fast-paced Internet sensation, social networks occur in all facets of our lives.Social networks were first officially studied in the late 1890s when the Social Network Theory (SNT), which examines different networks of relationships between individuals and the common factors that bring them together, was first introduced, measuring connections by ‘nodes’ and relationships.

Since then, a major social scientist in this field, Jacob Moreno, has examined social networks in a variety of settings, specifically small groups and classrooms.Social networking theorists also believe that each individual on earth could be linked to another individual by only six other acquaintances. This is called Six Degrees of Separation and was turned into a popular movie buff game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Learning Outcomes

When you finish the video, you should be more confident in your ability to:

  • Define what a social network is
  • Explain the history of social networking
  • Discuss SNT and Six Degrees of Separation
  • List some of the social networks

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