Social Media and Its Role Now and in the Future

Executive Summary

This document focused on the role of social media, now and in future. To achieve this goal, it focused on a number of issues that surround social media. The world has experienced a lot of creations and innovations as a result of the works of man. This includes the invention of fire, the creation of the wheel, agrarian revolution, industrial revolution, scientific revolution and at the present moment, technological advancement. Each and every day, the world is experiencing a lot of development in the field of information, communication and technology. As a result, the manner in which we think, operate and interact with each other and our environment has changed.

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One of the greatest innovations that man has come up with as a result of technological advancement is the development of social media and networks. These new phenomenon has taken over almost each and every perspective of our lives. It has taken over the manner in which we interact with each other and with ourselves, with businesses, societies, professionals, institutions and so on. However, like any other environment. It is due to this fact that it was essential to conduct this study. The aim of this study is to determine the role of social media, now and in future. However, to narrow down the scoop of the study, the following four research questions were formulated:

  1. How has social media changed the lives of people?
  2. What impacts do social media networks have on businesses?
  3. Is social media a fad or is it a sustainable force that will change how we interact with one another and with businesses?
  4. How is social media evolving and what is its future?

These questions were formulated in order to guide the line that the study would take. To ensure that these questions were covered effectively and efficiently, the following study hypotheses were formulated:

  • Ho1. Social media has a huge impact on the lives of people
  • HA1. Social media does not have a huge impact on the lives of people
  • Ho2. Social media has a huge impact on business entities
  • HA2. Social media does not have a huge impact on business entities

However, the time span for carrying out this study was limited. This acted thus as a major limitation to this study. Another limitation of the study was the fact that the amount of relevant literature to support the study was limited since the social media industry is a new area of study. However, several methods were used to collect the relevant data that was required in this study. Despite the fact that social media is a new industry, document review was the method that was used to gather a lot of information pertaining to the topic of study. Books, journals, magazines, theses, online publications and other forms of media were used to gather supporting information with regards to the study. These materials were gathered from various sources including libraries and online databases.

To support the information that was gathered from document review, interviews were conducted. These interviews were conducted on people and business entities. This target group was essential in providing the information that was required for the study as it aimed to determine the impacts of social media on people and businesses. The respondents for the study were individuals between the ages of 12-65. This age group is the most active proportion of the global population. In addition, observations were also conducted. To ensure that the data that was collected from these methods were precise, several analyses were conducted. First, the data that was collected from interviews and observations were analyzed using a computer software package known as SPSS version 16

. In addition, Porter 5 Forces, SWOT and PESTEL analysis were conducted on the social media industry in order to get an in-depth understanding of the industry. From these analyses, it was identified that social media plays a critical role in the lives of individuals since 77% of the users who were interviewed had accounts in at least one of the online social network sites. In addition, 73.3 of the business entities that were interviewed had fun pages on social network sites. Therefore, this proved that social network sites play a critical role in the lives of people and businesses. Furthermore, the social media industry was valued at approximately $100 billion and more investors were still will to put their money in the industry. Therefore, this proved that social media is not a fad but a sustainable advancement to the future. Despite minor setbacks and reputations that social media has faced, such as the England riots of 2011, social media has and will play a critical role in the lives of people and business entities all around the globe.

Introduction

The world is currently facing a major transformation in all aspects of life. The way things operate in the world has become so different from the way it used to be several decades ago. As a result, the lifestyle and characters of individuals have gradually been modified to fit into the changes that we are currently experiencing. Several factors have contributed to the changes that we are currently experiencing. Technology is one of many factors that has contributed greatly to these changes that we are experiencing. To be specific to the context of this paper, social organizations and networks have taken over the lives of many individuals all around the world.

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Social networks are virtual organizations on the internet that have been created with the use of sophisticated computer software and commands. These networks enable individuals to interact with each other irrespective of their physical location, culture, background and origin. With the use of these networks, people can share a lot of information with their friends, create and interact with new friends and discuss several issues of concern. All this is possible without having physical contact with one another. Examples of social networks include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace and so on.

Social media has changed the manner in which individuals and organizations all around the world operate, interact, communicate and socialize. Ever since they came into existence, social media and networks have attracted the attention of millions of people in the globe. Due to the influence that social networks have on individuals and organization, they have managed to change the manner in which the world operates. As a result, a lot of factors in the world now depend on social media and networks. From a humble beginning, social networks have taken control of the globe and the manner in which it operates.

Other than affecting and influencing the manner in which individuals socials, communicate and so on, social media has also played a critical role in determining the manner in which businesses operate. This has mainly been championed by the concept of e-commerce. As Berry (2009) asserts, e-commerce is a term that is used to refer to the process of selling and purchasing goods and services over a variety of electronic systems (p. 237). Examples of these electronic systems include the internet, computer networks and any other telecommunication network. This technological advancement has come about because of the massive advancements that are being experienced in the field of Information Communication and Technology (ICT). These advancements have made the manner in which individuals, organizations, societies, nations and the world at large operate.

Due to the advancement in the field of ICT, the term e-commerce evolved rapidly to include a number of additional auxiliaries. At the present moment, the term is not only used to refer to the buying and selling of goods and services over computer network but it also includes other processes such as the development, marketing, selling, paying, delivery and servicing of goods and services over the internet or any other computerised network (Boone and Kurtz, 2011). The concept of e-commerce has gradually developed over the last several years because of the increase in the rate of internet use by many people all across the globe. According to Boone and Kurtz (2011), e-marketing is the base that supports global functions such as online banking, electronic funds transfer, supply chain management, mobile banking, online marketing, electronic data exchange, electronic inventory analysis and online purchasing of a variety of goods and services that are available on the internet (p. 16).

From the above analysis, it is evident that e-commerce has greatly influenced the manner in which operations are conducted by firms and businesses all around the globe. Many firms all around the world use the e-commerce strategy to gain a competitive edge over their rivals in the respective industries that they operate in. It is due to this fact that firms should adopt and implement this change and innovation. This will not only enable them to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals but it will ensure that the organization is run in an effective and efficient manner (Boone and Kurtz, 2011).

Therefore, the adoption of social media and networks by businesses has been as a result of the implementation of e-commerce by businesses. Whether large or small, local or international, most businesses have used the concept of social networking to get a clear understanding of their target market. In addition, social networks offer businesses the chance to meet and interact with their customers. This gives businesses the chance to understand the needs of their consumers, the market and any other external factor that may affect the manner in which they run their operations. As a result of having this information, such organizations stand in a better chance of operating in an effective and efficient manner by being able to meet the needs of their customers and that of the market. As a result, such organizations normally have a competitive edge over their rivals in the respective industries in which they operate.

However, with the current trends, it is evident that businesses are mainly using social media for advertising and socializing purposes. It has been identified that brands use social media to connect with their prospective customers. In addition, brands also use social networks as a mantra to advertise their products (Kaplan 69). Marketers have discovered that social media is one of the most effective methods to reach their target market during the 21st century. As a result, they have tried to utilize social media to the fullest in order to advertise their respective brands and meet the needs and desires of their customers (Kaplan 69).

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As a result, marketers have come up with sophisticated methods of marketing their brands via social media and networks. This trend has increased especially within the last two years. Social media marketing has increased because of increased competition. As competitors utilize various marketing strategies, their counterparts in the same industry also come up with even innovative and creative methods of reaching their consumers. This increases the level at which social media and networks are used by businesses to reach their consumers and stand at a competitive edge. Social media has thus become a platform of e-marketing for business entities all over the globe. This has removed the physical boundaries that are present between different states making organizations operate on a global scale.

Background

The Internet

As Boyd and Ellison (2007) asserted, the internet is a key accessory that has transformed life in the 21st century. The internet has made life much easier. It has made the ease at which information is accessed to be much easier. In addition, the internet has made globalization through socialization and networking to be a reality. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), 32.7% of the worlds population has access to the internet using one way or the other. Most of the individuals who comprise this proportion are between the ages of 12 and 65 (Boyd and Ellison 212). This age group comprises the proportion of active individuals within the population. Thus, from this information, it will be true to conclude that the internet is an essential element of life in the modern era. However, despite the fact that a high proportion of the worlds population uses the internet in one way or the other, most of these individuals do not really have the background information with regards to the growth and development of the internet.

The internet developed from humble beginnings during the 1950s and 1960s. The development of the internet was directly related to the development of computers, a phenomenon that was being experienced during this very time (Gajjala 132). However, the earliest form that may have led to the development of the internet was Arpanet (Gajjala156). Released in October 1969, Arpanet was a network that used packet technology. At that time, packet technology was a new thing and seemed to be sophisticated to many individuals. The main aim of Arpanet was to connect computers in UCLA and Stanford. Thus, in modern terms, Stanford and UCLA were the first hosts in what were currently refer to as the internet. On October 29th 1969, Stanford and UCLA wanted to send a message across the network. The message was the word ‘Login’. However, the system crashed at the letter g. This was perhaps the first message that was sent across an online network in the history of the world. Fig. 1 below shows the Arpanet network (Adamic 4).

the Arpanet network
Fig. 1.

The Arpanet was just but the first step towards a number of creations and innovations that led to the development of what we refer today as the internet. During the same year that Arpanet was launched, the UNIX, an operating system was also launched. A computerised system operates with the use of commands. However, for these commands to function as a sustainable unit, it is essential to develop an operating system that regulates, directs and controls these commands in order to achieve the desired output. Thus, the development of UNIX was a major step towards the integration of the internet. Many operating systems that are currently in use are based on the UNIX. A prime example of an operating system that is based on UNIX is Linux. Another example is FreeBSD. According to Gajjala (2007), these are the operating systems that are mainly used by host serves and internet servers (181).

In 1970, there another developmental milestone was experienced. An Arpanet network was developed. However, unlike the previous one, this new network-connected several parties. These included MIT, BBN and Harvard. This network was more successful than the previous Arpanet network that connected Stanford to UCLA. The internet is currently based on these networks. Later on, in 1971, another revelation was unravelled; the e-mail. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed a standard format that was used to be used to set up a standard email address. He developed the acronym @ that was used to separate the username from the address. However, the e-mailing concept had been in practice for sometime before this happened. From several reports that have been documented, it has been found out that during the mid-1960s, users of mainframe computers used e-mails as a form of point-to-point communication between one another. However, the revelation by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 led to the development of a standard format that is applicable up to the present day. Currently, millions of e-mails are exchanges across the internet by users from all around the world. This has made communication via the internet to be much easier.

From this time, the frequency at which innovations and creations with regards to computing and networking increased. In 1972, for instance, France developed CYCLADES. CYCLADES was a network system that resembled Arpanet. However, it did not last for long. Despite its demise, its innovation and development had a huge impact on system management. From it, it was discovered that the main role host computers should play is data transmission and not controlling the network itself. Arpanet also experienced a lot of growth, modification and development. According to Gajalla (2007), the major milestone that was experienced in the history of Arpanet was when the network was able to support Trans-Atlantic communication in 1973 (133). This connection was between the University College of London. During the first year that this network was set, e-mail accounted for three-quarters of the communication (Lazer 15). However, 1974 saw an even larger development in the world of computing and networking. According to Gajjala (2007), a proposal that aimed at linking all Arpa-like networks was developed (184). This concept was referred to as inter-networking. Unlike Arpanet and other related networks, this new system would not have central control. In addition, this new system was to be based on Transmission Control Protocol (TCP/IP).

Since the development of the computer, it was quite difficult to transmit information over networks since this data had to undergo many changes in their form and mode. Normally, data in a computer is always in a digital format. For it to be transmitted over a network, it has to be transformed into another format depending on the mode of transmission. This thus led to the development of a modem; a device that transformed digital data from a computer to analogue format for transmission. Once this information has been received on the other end, the modem converted the analogue data back to digital format to be used in a computer.

This function was only available for mainframe computers. However, in 1977, Dennis Hayes and Dale Heatherington developed the first modem that could be used in personal computers (Hodge 97). This innovation changed the manner in which people would communicate over networks as now individuals had the chance to access several networks with the use of their personal computers. Thus, communication across networks changed to include individuals, not corporations, and research institutions. However, the introduction of the PC modem to the public had adverse effects on Arpanet users. In 1978, the first uncontrolled e-mail was sent across the Arpanet network across California. According to Hodge (2006), this message affected over 600 users (101). This phenomenon, later on, came to be referred to as spam. Currently, this is a common occurrence across the internet. Thus, Gary Thuerk, the person responsible for the unsolicited e-mail in 1978, was the first person to ever make spam.

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Currently, there are a number of computerised games and graphics present on the internet. Creativity and innovation have led to the development of 3D games, virtual reality and computer simulations. However, all these advancements come from an advancement that was created in 1979 from a precursor of two games; World of Warcraft and Second Life. The result was a multiplayer game called MultiUser Dungeon. This game was simple as it was based on a virtual textual world. The game was characterised by role-playing, fiction and chatting over the internet. From this simple game, hundreds of thousands of games have been developed.

Also in 1980, two graduate students in the United States developed Usenet (Gajjala162). Usenet provided a platform where people could discuss several issues present in newsrooms on an online basis. Here, people had the chance to give out their thoughts and ideas towards a specific subject. This was perhaps the begging of modern blogging. During the same year that Usenet was developed, scientists at the European Organization of Nuclear Research launched a new program (Gajjala 170). This program was referred to as the ENQUIRE software. It was used by scientists at the particle physics lab. These scientists used the software to keep track of people and projects. This was made possible by the use of hyperlinks.

1982 saw a major advancement in the passing of personal information over the internet. This came about as a result of the introduction of emoticons. Scott Fahlman proposed the use of emoticon  after a joke. This was the birth of the use of modern emoticons over the internet. Currently, there are many emoticons that are mainly used by individuals in chat rooms and social media to express their emotions; hence the word emoticon.

1983 was the year that the internet experienced a major change. On 1st January of that year, all computers switched from Arpanet connections to TCP/IP protocols. This change made it easier for individuals to surf through the internet, network and link with others. However, the transaction affected several computers. To ensure that this new system is sustainable, effective and efficient, the Domain Name System was created a year later (Gajjala170). At the same time, the Domain Name Server (DNS) was also created. The Domain Name System is a system of naming computers, applications or any other services that are connected to the internet.

The same system can also be used to name computers in a hierarchical manner within a private network. Each entity within the network is assigned a special name with reference to all other entities that are present within the system. This makes it easier for an individual to get access/contact with a specific domain within the network. As the internet was growing in size, the Domain Name System made it easier for individuals to search for a specific domain by providing addresses that were much easier for an individual to memorise. According to Gajjala (2007), this was much easier than using IP addresses in order to get access to a given domain (170). With this system in place, users could easily put in an easy to remember the address for a specific domain. Once this is done, the system then automatically changes this address into the numerical form of an IP address.

In 1985, the WELL, a virtual community was developed. The WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link) was developed by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant. The main aim of this community was to bring together the readers and writers from all across the globe. During its early years of existence, the WELL mainly focused on reviewing and analysing the Whole Earth Review. The WELL became to be one of the largest virtual gatherings and interaction of intellectuals in the world during the 1980s. Due to this reputation, the community kept on gaining more and more users. The WELL is still in operation up to the present moment. Due to its success, Wired Magazine has termed The WELL as the most successful online community in history.

From the mid-1980s up to the early 1990s, tremendous developments were made in the internet world. In 1986, there was a major setback in the development of the internet. This setback was as a result of protocol wars between European states and the United States of America. European states advocated for Open System Interconnection to be used to connect computers on a larger network. The USA, on the other hand, was not for the idea. It advocated for the use of the Internet/Arpanet protocol. These wrangles went on for quite some time. However, the United States idea for the adoption of Internet/Arpanet protocol was finally adopted by all nations. This agreement made the use of the internet to increase. The internet phenomenon now had a global impact. By 1987, there were over 30,000 hosts on the internet. This came about as a result of the adoption of the TCP/IP system. This system made it possible for many hosts to operate within the internet as compared to the Arpanet connections that could only support 1,000 hosts. 1988 also saw an increase of users on the internet.

This increment was as a result of the introduction of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) (Gajjala 174). This revelation made real-time chat to be possible. In addition, it paved way for the development of technologies that support instant messaging that we are currently using. Thus, the development of IRC was a major stepping-stone that boosted communication at a personal level on the internet. Modern chat rooms are currently based on this platform. 1988 was also the year that the first major attack on the internet was experienced. During this year, a worm named Morris circulated throughout the internet. The worm, developed by Robert Tappan Morris, led to massive disruptions on the internet. Most users of the internet were unable to access the system. There were also massive system breakdowns as a result of the worm. This brought about a major standstill in the use of the internet. In 1989, Apple stopped participating in the AppleLink program. Instead, it commenced on a new program known as American Online (AOL) that is still in existence up to the present day. This program made it easier for average internet users to use the internet effectively and efficiently. This program success was based on the fact that it made individuals be more comfortable while using the internet.

In 1989, the internet was in the process of taking a huge turn. This came about as a result of the proposal of a World Wide Web (Boyd and Ellison 219). This proposal was written by Tim Berners-Lee. This proposal was released on the March 1989 issue of the MacWorld. The same proposal was also distributed in 1990. The main aim of this proposal was to expound to CERN that the use of a hypertext system would make the global use of the internet to be sustainable. This proposed system would also be in the best interest of CERN since it would solve the problem of information loss; an issue that was present with the current system that was present on the internet. The internet at that time was organized in a hierarchical manner.

CERN as an organization comprised of thousands of people. All of these individuals were innovative and creative. In addition, they always worked to achieve specific goals and objectives as a team. However, their organization structure was always a setback to their initiative. This is because they were organized in a hierarchical manner. This is not an effective system since it does not allow free flow of information either up or down the levels of management. The adoption of a global hypertext system that was proposed by Berners-Lee would end all this. This system would also solve the problems of linked information systems, trees and keywords. This new hypertexts system that was proposed by Berners-Lee was to be referred to as the ‘Mesh’. However, while writing the code, Berners-Lee changed the name to the World Wide Web (www). Fig. 2 below shows the proposed information system that Berners-Lee presented in 1990 (Gajjala179).

information system that Berners-Lee presented in 1990

During the 1990s, a lot of developments were experienced in the internet world. It is the creations and innovations of this decade that transformed the internet to the status that it is currently in. 1990 saw the debut of the first internet provider in the world; The World. The World was a dial-up internet provider that targeted organizations and individuals. Other than providing internet services, The World also gave its users the chance to connect to Usenet. It also offered e-mail services to its users. The World is still in operation up to the present day although currently there are thousands of ISPs in the world. It is also in 1990 that the World Wide Web protocol was completed. Berners-Lee finally finished coding the World Wide Web. This work was based on the proposal that he had presented a year earlier. The World Wide Web was coded to meet HTML, HTTP and URLs standards. A year later, the first web page was created and released. Just like its predecessors, the first web page had an explanation of what it was, its uses and capabilities, its purpose and most importantly, what the World Wide Web was all about. This information was essential as it gave the public essential information that created a form of understanding of what the internet was and the capabilities that it had. As a result, the mentality that the internet was only for technical people was slowly dying off.

With this advancement, the nature and extent of the internet were growing at an alarming rate. It was thus essential for the internet to be organized in such a way that it will be easy to store, search, retrieve and access files. The development of the World Wide Web played a critical role in reliving this issue. However, as the magnitude of stored and shared files within the internet increased, a sustainable solution was required. This led to the development of Gopher, an application that was designed to search and retrieve documents that have been stored on the internet. The gopher was one amongst the earliest search engines on the internet.

1991 was also an important year in the world of entertainment and communication over the internet. It is during this year that the mp3 format was standardized. This was a compressed form of music format that enabled individuals to share music files and albums over the internet. At the same time, the first webcam was developed in 1991. Although the webcam application was developed in an experimental design for observation, the same concept was adopted to assist in face-to-face communication via the internet. The same application was also used for monitoring and surveillance.

To easily access the internet, several browsers were developed. In 1993, Mosaic, a web browser was developed. Due to its user-friendly interface, Mosaic made it easier for the public to access the internet. As a result, it became the most common browser that was downloaded and used by the public. Fig. 3 below shows the interface of Mosaic (Gajjala183).

the interface of Mosaic

The growth of the internet and the impact that it had on the public could now be felt. More and more users continued to access the internet. In addition, applications and programs were being developed each and every single day to ensure that the internet is user friendly. Thus, as a result, the internet became part of the lives of many individuals, especially in developed nations. To keep up with this pace of development, national governments and other organizations felt the need to connect with the public via the internet. This thus led to the government of the United States of America and the United Nations going online in 1993. As a result, the.org and.gov domains came into existence.

At this time, Mosaic was the most common browser that was used to access the internet. However, in 1994, Mosaic faced its greatest competition ever; Netscape Navigator. Netscape Navigator was a primary product of Netscape Communication Corporation. Netscape browser was based on the Mosaic browser although it had a few modifications that made it to be a better browsing program. Netscape was launched a time when the internet was undergoing a great revolution; commercialization of the internet. Netscape took advantage of this by having desirable features that enabled users to use it for a variety of functions. In addition, the browser was offered free of charge for those individuals who did not use it for commercial purposes. This made the program to be a platform of the windows operating system. In addition, ISPs and computer review magazines played an essential role in making the software to be readily available to the public (Gajjala182).

A key factor that perhaps made Netscape be a superior browser as compared to Mosaic was the manner in which it used to load its pages. The browser had the on-the-fly capability. This made the browser to be able to load graphics and images as the web page continued to load. This was a key advancement as compared to earlier browsers that waited for graphics and images to be loaded first by the network connection before they displayed the entire web page. Thus, while using the earlier versions of browsers such as Mosaic, users had to stare at a blank page before the network connection loaded the entire page. This process could take as long as several minutes. Thus, the capability of Netscape to systematically load pages while displaying graphics and images attracted users during the mid-1990s into downloading and using the browser. In addition, Netscape developed the Secure Sockets Layer in 95. This encryption made it possible for users to conduct secure financial transactions such as credit card payments online. This development further increased the popularity of Netscape to internet users.

This development also led to the introduction of online stores. Echo bay (later named eBay), launched in 1995 was among the earliest online stores where users could buy and sell goods over the internet. Amazon.com, also launched in 1995, also offered online purchasing services. Towards the close of the 1990s, Netscape strived hard to ensure that it remained the leading browser in the world. To achieve this, it developed new technical advancements that made it an even superior browser as compared to other browsers that were currently available. In its 2.0 version, Netscape introduced cookies, JavaScript and proxy automatic configurations (Gajjala184). In addition, Netscape developers ensured that the browser was available for all operating systems. This included Windows, Linux, Macintosh and many other subsidiary operating systems (Gajjala184). Furthermore, Netscape developers commenced on a program known as Constellation. This program aimed at making users access their files regardless of the which computer they are using, their location on the globe or the operating system that the computer was using. All these factors played an important role in the success of Netscape Navigator.

However, towards the close of the 1990s, the use of Netscape among internet users started to decline. The success that Netscape had experienced between the mid-1990s to the end of the same decade made other companies to realise the web browsers was a lucrative industry that should be ventured into. One of the companies that primarily made this discovery was Microsoft (Gajjala185). To venture into the industry, Microsoft adopted the basics of Mosaic in the development of their new web browser. After years of research and development, Microsoft released its web browser, Internet Explorer. To market the product, Microsoft used the Constellation idea that Netscape developers had incorporated. Thus, Internet Explorer could be used in any computer at any part of the globe regardless of the operating system that the computer had. This concept thus made Internet Explorer be the main competitor of Netscape. The Version 1.0 of Internet Explorer was only available for Windows 95. Version 2.0, released in 1996 could operate in both Windows and Macintosh. However, both of these versions were considered inferior browsers as compared to Netscape.

When Internet Explorer 3.0 was released into the market in 1997, it had a relative impact in the market share of browsers. This version was able to actively compete with Netscape although the former was still considered a better browser due to its reputation and features. However, things took a different turn when Microsoft released Internet Explorer version 4.0 in 1999. At this time, Netscape had launched its version 3.0; the Standard Version and the Gold Version. The standard version had additional functions such as WYSIWYG, news briefs, e-mail capabilities and so on. This increased version increased its size and reduced its speed. The Gold Version (considered as version 4.0) on the other hand was later on renamed as Netscape communicator. The change in name made it to be unpopular among web users. In addition, Netscapes version 4.x was slower than Internet Explorer 5.0. The increased features of Netscape browsers made the program to always crush. In addition, it was buggy and thus users had to refresh an entire page in case of a malfunction. Furthermore, Netscapes interface was viewed as outdated as compared to Internet Explorers interface. Thus, once a dominant browser, Netscape user share had declined and was almost wiped off from the market in the early 2000s.

The competition that was present between Netscape and Internet Explorer and other browsers had an overall positive effect on the users of the internet. It is through this competition that several advancements were made on internet browsers that made the internet to be user friendly. In 1996 for instance, Hotmail was launched. This was the first webmail service. This made communication across the internet to be much easier. Two years later, the internet was used to broadcast its first news; the scandal between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. This story had been killed. However, its publication online in The Drudge Report made the story to hit headlines all across the globe. Also in the same year, Google, an online search engine, went online.

Google is now one of the most reliable search engines online. It also offers other auxiliary services such as Google Maps, Google Scholar, Gmail, Google Books and so on. Also in 1998, internet sharing became a reality. This was after Napster was launched. Napster enabled millions of users online to share music files on an online basis. This made availability and circulation of music and other audio materials to be much easier. In the year 2000, the internet experienced the bubble burst. This led to the collapse of several technology companies that had invested so much on the internet and had not realised profits before then. Most of the companies that were severely affected by the bubble burst ceased to be in existence by the year 2002. In 2001, Wikipedia, the largest online encyclopaedia was launched. Now, millions of users rely on Wikipedia to access information of all genres. In addition, anyone can upload or edit the information that is contained on the website.

The development of modern browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer also brought about changes to the interface of the internet. Initially, the display of browsers was not always what one would get because of trying to access the information in hard copy. However, after thorough research and development by Netscape developers, the concept of What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) was developed. With this capability present in browsers, it made it possible for users to view anything on an online basis in a manner that is close to its result. Thus, users did not have to use sophisticated commands to manipulate information that was contained on the webpage. This made it possible for users to easily edit and manipulate the layout and once this information is printed, it looked more or less the same as the information that was contained in the browsers interface. WYSISYG was also adopted by other computer programs like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and so on.

The end of the bubble burst saw the development of a new concept on the internet; social media. A number of websites, MySpace being one of them, pioneered this new concept. Since its debut in 2003, MySpace came to be one of the leading social networks online. Between the year 2005 and 2008, MySpace became the most visited social network in the world. In 2005, the website received more visits than Google in the United States. By the year 2009, MySpace had a workforce of approximately 1,600 individuals. However, the introduction and growth of Facebook had a negative impact on the growth and development of MySpace. Facebook was launched in the year 2004 as Facebook. During its early years, theFacebook was only accessible to university students. However, the site was later on renamed as Facebook after the acronym ‘the’ was dropped. It provided an avenue where students could chat, share photos, state what they are thinking and so on. However, by the year 2008, Facebook had grown and it was the number one website on the internet to have individuals from all around the world. Its rise in popularity made other social networks such as MySpace to lose their popularity.

The growth of social media was however supported by the shift from the use of Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. The terms Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 are just but technical names that are used to describe the distinctive features that were introduced in different eras (Lazer 17). It is believed that the term Web 2.0 was coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999, the term received a popular application in the year 2004. Although there are no huge technical differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, the major factor that differentiates them is the fact that websites that use Web 2.0 have Rich Internet Application (RIA). This thus increases the rate of interaction of users. In addition, these sites are user-driven as users are able to manipulate the content that is found on these websites. However, there are some other minor differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. These differences are highlighted in table 1 below.

Factor Web 1.0 Web 2.0
Broadband Speed The highest Browsing speed that was recorded at the time was 128 kbps At the present moment, people are enjoying browsing speeds of as much as 2.0+ Mbps.
Social Interaction Poor Efficient
Content Generation Limited Open to Everyone
Viewing and Interacting with Rich Media Slow and Cumbersome Fast and Efficient
Technologies (RSS, AJAX, Tag Clouds etc) Not Available thus making the internet and refreshing time to be slow Available hence refreshing time has been reduced and the internet is faster reducing the ease at which information can be accessed.
Open Source Movement Rigid Allows individuals to code, program and upload their websites
Viral Marketing Tedious. People had to undergo several procedures to like and share something on the internet. Easy. All that one needs to do is to click on the share button and the information shall be passed to all your friends online.
Web Development Cost High Low

Table 1.

From the table above, it is evident that despite the fact that Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 had the same technical base, Web 2.0 made the utilization of the internet to be much easier for ordinary users. This was thus a major factor in making the internet to be popular within the community. It thus should be noted that it is in the same year (2004) that Web 2.0 went mainstream that the concept of social media started to grow and develop at an alarming rate. This came about as a result of the fact that users now had the chance to create their own content online, share the same information with anyone in the world and connect and communicate with individuals from all the corners of the globe. It is this concept that most of the social media presence in the world is based upon.

As a result, 2004 was a remarkable year both for the growth of the internet to common users within the community and the introduction and development of social media networks. As a result, several social sites were developed. Digg, a social news network went online in November 2004. Other social news sites that came about, later on, included Yahoo! Buzz, Mixx and Reddit (Lazer 18). At the same time, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter developed. It is almost at the same time that YouTube, a streaming video website was launched (2005). The Web even grew further as other sophisticated sites came about. Hulu, launched in 2006 was one of these sites. This site enabled users from all across the globe to share movies and other materials of video content. At the present moment, there are thousands of sites like Hulu online.

By the year 2007, the internet had become an integral part of many individuals. This mainly included teenagers and middle-aged individuals mainly from the developed nation. The need for having all-time access to the internet grew. In addition, it became clear that people needed to have the internet almost everywhere. It was thus imminent for the internet to be introduced in cellular phones. However, Apple Inc. in the month of June 2007 brought about a gadget that would change the communication industry. This came about when Steve Jobs, the then CEO of Apple Inc. Launched the iPhone (Lazer 19). The iPhone had all the capabilities that the iPod, an earlier product of the company had. However, the gadget made its users access the internet much easier and at great speeds.

The use of the internet was even made much easier with the numerous applications that the phone had. Thus, accessing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and so on was made much easier. In addition, the phone had the capability of taking pictures, recording videos and storing various form of media that the users could easily share with their friends via the internet. Since then, there have been several generations of the iPhone. In October 2011, Apple Inc. launched the iPhone 4S, the latest iPhone in the market. In addition, their company has also developed other gadgets that have made internet access to users to be much easier. Apple Inc has released tablet computers that have increased the ease at which users access the internet. Apple Inc. in January 2010 released the iPad (Lazer 19). In March 2011, the second generation of the iPad, iPad 2 was unravelled by the then CEO Steve Jobs. These tablets changed the means through which people accessed, shared and utilized audio-visual media for personal and business purposes. Other brands such as Sony, BlackBerry and Samsung have released smartphones, computers and tablets with the same goal and overall outcome as Apple Inc. This has made the internet to be accessible to users all around the world.

Perhaps it is in the year 2008 that the internet was seen as being a positive influence within the community. This impact was greatly felt in the United States of America and was admired by almost all other countries in the world. During the 2008 presidential elections in the United States of America, voters had the option of voting via the internet. This concept was widely used by many individuals during the election. Users found it much easier to vote online as this mode was easier, faster and did not involve many technicalities that other voting methods had. In addition, tallying of the votes was done automatically thus the results were received almost immediately after the last individuals cast his/her vote. During this election, candidates used social media as part of their campaign strategies. These mainly included social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they posted their advertisements on sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Google, Yahoo and so on. Thus, the 2008 presidential campaigns in the USA mainly relied on the internet to gain public support.

The internet has also brought about wrangles and disagreement among several parties. These wrangles have mainly come about because of a party feeling that his/her rights have been infringed by the actions of the other. As a result, several arguments and lawsuits have been filed. One of the deadliest wars that have been ever fought with regards to the internet was experienced in early 2012. This war came about due to several bills that had been presented to the senate in the USA. These two bills were:

  1. Protect IP Act (PIPA)
  2. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

These bills were presented in the US senate as a result of the high level of piracy that had developed on the internet. This piracy mainly affected the music and film industry. As a result of file-sharing services, users of the internet were now able to upload and download media files of all types online. As a result, the number of pirated copies of books, films, music and other media files that were circulating on the internet was overwhelming. This greatly reduced the sales that the owners of these materials would have otherwise received as a result of their hard work and determination. Although these bills had the right motive, the manner in which they were to be implemented was the main cause of the conflict. According to these new laws, website hosts were to be directly liable for the content that their subscribers would write or share within their websites. To ensure that this issue does not happen, it was thus essential for the hosts to check each and every entry that their users had uploaded on their websites to ensure that these entries did not infringe the rights and freedom of any individual either directly or indirectly.

However, according to giant internet companies, these acts will make them be media police. This will arise as a result of them blocking internet sites that conduct digital media file-sharing services. Thus, this will be an additional job that may lead either to internet blackout. To react to these new bills, giant companies such as Google, Wikipedia, Bing, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit openly disagreed to these new proposals. Wikipedia is a prime example of an internet company that greatly disagreed to these proposed bills. To show the attitude that the company had towards this idea, the English version of the website was blacked out for 24 hours on January 18th 2012.

On that very same day, Reddit and Boing Boing also had a blackout. In addition, websites such as Google had a link to a message that addressed the issue. All these actions were meant to sensitize the public about their rights with regards to the internet. In most of the messages that were published online, a common phrase was present, ‘let everyone know’. This message is a clear indicator of how the internet has taken over our lives. It is through the internet that individuals access, share and store information. Thus, this campaign by giant internet companies suggests that it is essential for the users of the internet to protect the internet as it is their main source of information, socialization and the base of the worlds future.

Social Media

Since they were first introduced on the internet, social media networks have attracted millions of users. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), most of these users have made social media sites to be part and parcel of their lives (213). This is because these users use these sites on an almost daily basis. Some of the users never log out from these sites since they form a platform through which they interact with the outside world. Now, there are hundreds if not thousands of social media sites online. Each one of these sites is unique in the sense that it has different affordances. This makes each site to attract different kinds of people who have similar characteristics, likes and interests. Most sites attract individuals who have a common characteristic. This might be racial background, language, sexuality, culture, religion or nationality. However, the technological base that these sites have is relatively the same. The manner in which these sites operate is also somewhat different. There are sites that operate on blogging, mobile communication and so on. On the other hand, there are those sites that concentrate on video and picture sharing. Despite these differences, the end result that users achieve after utilizing these sites is more or less the same. Currently, the giants of social networks sites include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn (Boyd and Ellison 214).

Definition of Social Networks

Several statements have been advanced to define the term social network sites. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), social network sites are web-based applications that enable users to create personal profiles that are public or semi-public that are only viewed by individuals within the network. These sites normally have a list of users who can share information with one another. Thus, users within the same network are able to view some (if not all) of the information that is contained in the profiles of the respective users. In addition, users are able to traverse the connections that have been made by the host and at the same time, they have the chance to create their own networks and connections within the site. However, the nature of the connection and the manner in which they are named are variable. This mainly depends on the networks tastes and preferences.

In normal circumstances, the terms of social networks and social networking are often used interchangeably. However, on technical grounds, these two terms are somewhat different in their meaning and application. However, the term networking is normally not used to describe social networks due to two things. These are:

  1. Scope
  2. Emphasis

The term networking is normally used to describe the process through which a relationship between two individuals who have no prior relations is initiated (Boyd and Ellison 215). In normal circumstances, this does not occur in social network sites and if it does occur, it is not the main motive of social network sites. It should also be noted that networking is not the factor that differentiates social networks from other computer-mediated communication (CMC) sites that are present on the internet.

Thus, what makes social sites to be different from CMCs is not the fact that it enables users to meet a stranger but it gives them the opportunities to create their profiles that enables their social networks to be visible to other users within the network. This thus brings about the opportunities of such individuals to search and interact with other users within the network who may or may not be familiar to them (Neti 3). According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), the main goals of users of social networks are not to meet with strangers but to communicate with those individuals who form part of their larger social network. It is due to this fact that these sites were referred to as social network sites. For instance, when Facebook was launched in the year 2004, its main aim was to enable college students to communicate with their friends within the campus and to share photos and videos in the process. This is the main essence of social networks.

While social network sites have developed various features that differentiate them from other sites, there is one unique feature that is found in almost all of these sites. In most of the social networks, users have profiles. A key feature that is found on the profile of users is the friend list; a list that contains the names of all the friends that a specific user has. Furthermore, the users who are a part of the friend list are also members of that specific site (Boyd and Ellison 217). In addition, the profile of a specific user contains several other details pertaining to their personal profile. This information is mainly generated while the user was signing up to be part and parcel of a specific social network site. To gain this information, a user is expected to fill out a form (or forms).

These forms normally ask the users specific questions. It is the answerers that the users gives that are used to generate the information that will be contained in his/her personal profile. However, with the advancement in the internet, users now have the chance to edit their personal profiles to reflect their own personal tastes and preferences. To further enhance the profile of users, most sites encourage their users to upload a profile picture. Sites such as Facebook also allow their users to add multimedia files and application. This, according to the developers of the site, enables the profile of their users to be more attractive (Haythornthwaite 127). Users also have the option of controlling the set of information that can be made visible to other users within the network. In addition, users also have the option of editing the individuals who can access their personal profile. Other sites like LinkedIn for example control the ease at which users can view the profiles of each other.

This mainly depends on whether a user has a paid or free subscription. The users who have a paid-for the service normally can view more content on the profiles of other users as compared to the users who have not paid for their subscription. All of these concepts came about because of the need for privacy in social network sites. This ensures that the right of users is guaranteed. Initially, the profile of most users was made visible to almost anyone. For instance, sites such as Friendster and Tribe.net did not have any form of privacy on the profile of their users. Thus, the personal information of users could be accessed by anyone who was in the network. To make it even worse, such information could be accessed via search engines. This really infringed the right to privacy of many users. However, at the present moment, most of these sites allow their users to set up their preferred privacy settings to control the extent at which their profiles can be viewed within the network itself and on the internet. The manner in which the profile of an individual is displayed and can be accessed by other users within the network and the internet forms the main basis in which social network sites differ from one another.

Once an individual has joined a specific social network, he/she needs to commence on the process of searching for friends. In most cases, social networks have systems that will make it easier for an individual to search for friends. This search may be based on the region in which the user is currently located at, education background, profession and so on. However, in most cases, users normally search for friends themselves since they know the names and other identification procedures that their friends use within the network. Once the user has found friends, he/she needs to state the nature of the relationship that he/she has with another user within the network. Different networks have different means through which they use to state the relationship that exists between two different users. The name that exists between two users depends on the nature of the site. A site like Facebook for instance requires that the nature of this friendship be confirmed on both ends. Thus, the relationship of this status is referred to as ‘friends’. On the other hand, there are sites that do not require a two-way confirmation of the relationship. Twitter is a prime example of this. Thus, such a relationship on this site is referred to as ‘followers’. Other sites also have a relationship between their users referred to as fans.

The link of connection that exists between friends in a social network is a feature that makes social networks to be different from other computer-mediated communication sites. Regardless of the various features that social networks have, most of them allow friends to access the profiles of their friends within the network. In addition, users are also able to traverse through the network by clicking on various users who are on their friend list. Once they click on a specific friend, they are able to access their profile. This includes their friend list. In a site like Facebook, such a user can be able to check the mutual friends that he/she has with the selected friend. In addition, he/she can also see the names of the other friends that the selected user has. At this moment, he/she has the option of deciding whether to send them a friend request so that they can be friends. This concept increases the networking capability of social sites.

While accessing various networks, users have a different mode of communication that they can utilize. Most sites give the users a chance to state what is on their mind at a specific time. In Facebook, this concept is referred to as ‘status update’. In Twitter, this concept is referred to as tweeting. Additionally, in most sites, users have the option of leaving comments (although this name may vary depending on different sites). This comment can be on a picture, a link or an update/tweet of a user. The number of users and comments that can be left on one entry is unlimited. Users also have the option of a private communication platform. Here, users can send private messages to each other. This form of communication is different from the rest since only the sender and the recipient of the message are able to view the content of the message. Other sites also have the chat option. Here, users who are online at the same time can send instant messages to one another. In some occasions, some sites have chat runs that are either open to all users or are private. Here, users can talk about anything. This brings about virtual communication as they were all together at one physical location.

Social networks operate beyond status updates, comments, private messaging and instant chat. Additional features that these sites have depended on the nature of the site (Nora 76). There are those sites that allow their users to share photos and videos across the network. In addition, other sites are based on cellular phones that allow their users to send instant messages. There are some that integrate both of these options. All this depends on the nature and preferences of the sites itself and the users that the site contains (Nora 81).

According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), different social networks have different target groups (217). These target groups depend on the geographical location of the users, their language, culture or background. However, this is not always the case. Orkut, for instance, was based in the United States. During its early days, the site had an English interface. However, with time, the site was taken over by Portuguese Speaking Brazilians who now form the dominant group accessing the site. Other sites are designed to attract individuals with similar interests, religion, sexuality or social identification. To an extreme extent, social networks have been created for dogs and cats (Dogster and Catster respectively) (Boyd and Ellison 217). However, the owners of the pets who are the users of these sites have to manage these profiles.

History of Social Network Sites

According to the definition that was given to the term ‘social media networks,’ the earliest site that fitted this description was referred to as SixDegrees.com. This was one of the earliest sites that allowed users to make and edit their own personal profiles, create a friends list. This site was launched in 1997. However, by 1998, users were able to surf through the profiles of the individuals who fell within their friend list. This made it to be a spectacular website where people could get to know more about other individuals and more importantly, more about themselves.

However, it is essential on this point to note that SixDegrees.com was not the only site at that time that had a feature that allowed individuals to create their own profiles. It was also not the first site to come up with the concept itself. This is because, by this time, there were a number of dating sites and community sites that required their users to create their profiles. Examples included Classmates.com, AIM and ICQ (Boyd and Ellison 220). With regards to dating sites, for instance, users had to create a profile in order to make it much easier for other users to determine whether they were compatible or not. However, the key difference that made SixDegrees.com be different from other sites was the fact that users were able to surf through their friend list, a concept that differentiates social networks and other computer-mediated communication sites that are present online.

SixDegrees.com was a social site that had a main motive; to connect people and enable them to send messages to one another (Boyd and Ellison 214). This was a strategic plan that enabled the site to attract millions of users. However, despite the huge number of users that the site received, it failed to be sustainable in the long run. This led to its closure in the year 2000 (Boyd and Ellison 214). On an interview, the founder of the site, Andrew Weinreich, stated that the site was simply ahead of its time. Individuals needed to use the site but they did not have the resources or the capabilities to support their urge. Weinreich asserted that at that time, the internet was not easily accessible to most people (Boyd and Ellison 214). It was thus difficult for friends to communicate with one another, as it was difficult for individuals to be online at the same time. Users also felt that the site was not adventurous enough. After sending or accepting friend requests, the simply did not have much to do and most importantly, they were not willing to meet with people they had just met on the internet.

At the same time period, social media sites that were emerging came up with new features and strategies that enabled them to support a number of factors that later on came to define social networks. This included the creation and editing of personal, professional and dating profiles and managing the friend list. According to Stelzner (2010), after its debut in 1999, LiveJournal enabled users to achieve a single-directional communication set up (14). In this site, users operated by following the journals of the individuals who formed their friend list and at the same time, manage the profiles of these individuals. The growth of such features made several sites to modify their platforms by adopting them. Cyworld and LunarStorm are just but a few examples of sites that modified their platforms to include friends list, profile management, diary pages and so on. This led to the growth and development of a new paradigm in the world of social network sites.

However, the year 2001 saw the development of a new wave in social network sites. This came about after Ryze.com was launched. Unlike other sites that enabled their users to connect and communicate with friends, Ryze.com came with a different approach. Its main aim was to connect business networks and people. The founder of the site asserted that he introduced the site to connect businessmen, entrepreneurs and investors. During its early days, the site connected business-minded individuals in San Francisco.

At the same time, Ryze.com was inter-related with the founders of other social sites. These included LinkedIn, Tribe.net and Friendster (Stelzner 15). The relationship that existed among these sites was because the member sites that formed this union would never be involved in any competition whatsoever. However, with time things did not go as planned. Ryze.com never gained the popularity that it expected. LinkedIn on the other hand become ended up being one of the most powerful social sites on the internet connecting businessmen, scholars, employers and individuals who are looking for employment. Friendster also grew up to be a significant figure on social media sites. However, its demise led it to be one of the biggest disappointments of the internet.

Friendster commenced operation in the year 2002. The site was an affiliate to Ryze.com. It was launched to compete with Match.com, an online dating site that had become profitable in the course of its operation. The main essence of Match.com was to make stranger who had similar interests to meet and possibly commence a romantic relationship. Friendster on the other hand had a similar strategy but its approach was somewhat different. Friendster was also a dating site. However, it aimed at making friends-of-friends meet. This was due to the notion that the chances of friends-of-friends meeting and starting a romantic relationship that would be sustainable was higher than friends and strangers meeting. In its early days, Friendster attracted three different kinds of users; bloggers, attendees and men who were gay.

During its first few months of operation, the site managed to attract over 300,000 users all of whom knew about the site via the word of mouth. However, the growth of the site was halted after the development of technical and social hitches. The servers and databases of the site could not handle the huge traffic that the site was experiencing. This led to the site becoming faulty on a regular basis. The overall effect of this situation led to the frustration of users, most of who had adopted and were using Friendster emails. This effect was particularly disappointing to the new users who had just heard about the site from media coverage. In addition, users normally bumped into individuals that they did not want to get involved with online. These included bosses, teachers, parents, former classmates and to some extent, some close friends. Furthermore, the site began to prevent its users from conducting certain acts that had been the trademark of the site. During its early months of operation, the site did not allow users to access the profiles of individuals who were beyond the fourth degree.

These were friends of friends of friends to friends. However, users were determined to get access to as many users as possible. Thus, to achieve this, most users began to add strangers to their friend list, an act that made them become ‘most popular’ users on the site. Some users, however, used a different approach. They pretended to be celebrities by posting fake pictures and adopting a fake profile. This made them be attractive and hence gather more friends on the network. Such individuals came to be referred to as ‘fakesters’ on the site. Fakesters became so common that normal users added them as their friends in order to search for more friends. The site did not approve of this and deactivated the users who had a fake profile picture. This ensued rage among users who felt that the site did not live up to the expectations of the users. As a result, most of the users left the site because of the deletion of fakesters and users who did not have genuine photos. This issue was also coupled with the fact that the site was prone to technical hitches and social collisions made the side to be unpopular (Boyd and Ellison 215). This led to the loss of the popularity of the site in the United States.

Social Networks Become Mainstream

After the year 2003, many social network sites were launched on the internet. This phenomenon made Clay Shirky, an internet analyst, to come up with the term Yet Another Social Network Service (YASNS) (Boyd and Ellison 216). Most of these sites tried to incorporate concepts that had been seen earlier in other social sites. One of the components that were adopted in these new sites was the profile-centric concept. Most of the new sites that were launched since the year 2003 enabled their users to create and edit their profiles and friend lists. Other social sites tried to target a specific group within the population. This included individuals with similar tastes, preferences, interests, religion, language, cultural background, political ideology and so on. Most of these sites focused on trying to get international attention. However, there are sites that sought to attract professional audiences.

These included sites such as LinkedIn, Xing and Visible Path. Other sites such as Dogster and Catster were launched to link passion-centric individuals who shared a common interest. In this case, the main interest was the love for pets. Other sites that came up had a religious theme. A prime example is MyChurch. The aim of this specific site was to connect Christians and churches. Thus, at this time, many social network sites were present on the internet but each one of them had different interest, goals and objectives (Barnes 3). This growth further increased the concept of user-generated content in social media. In addition, many transformations were experienced in other websites. The sites that were mainly affected by this phenomenon were files that supported media sharing. Some of these sites adopted basic concepts from social media files. These transformations made these sites to change into being social network sites (Barnes 3). Examples of such sites include YouTube and Flickr (Barnes 3).

By the year 2005, the number of social network sites that were present on the internet was increasing by the day. However, the popularity of these sites seemed to be found outside the demographic areas where the founders expected to get their target market (Boyd and Ellison 217). This situation was similar even to sites that were founded by giant internet companies such as Microsoft and Google. Google, for instance, launched Orkut, a social network site that was supposed to attract US users. However, the site failed to become popular among Americans. Despite its shortcomings, the company managed to attract a peculiar group of individuals; Portuguese speaking Brazilians (Boyd and Ellison 217). These were Brazilians who resided in the United States and Brazil. After operating for several months, the site launched a Portuguese interface and eventually went on to become the national social network site for Brazil.

Another social network site that had a tremendous impact on the world of social media was MySpace. The site was launched at Santa Monica. According to Tom Anderson, the founder of the site, MySpace was launched to compete with social networks such as Friendster, Xanga, AsianAvenue and so on. To be in particular, MySpace wanted to attract users who had been deleted from Friendster as a result of them being regarded to as fakesters. As a result of the deletion of their accounts, the users of Friendster felt that the site did not have their interest at hand. This led them to leave the site and looking for better alternatives. MySpace thus offered such a platform to attract the users who were not satisfied with the services of Friendster and other social network sites. This predicament thus made MySpace grow at an alarming rate. One of the main group of individuals that the site managed to attract from Friendster was the Indie-Rock group; a group that had been estranged from Friendster as a result of them failing to comply to the rules and regulation of the site with regards to their profile management (Boyd and Ellison 217).

Having bands as part of their target group were not the main intention of MySpace. However, such users were welcomed into the site. These users begun to create their profiles, connect with other bands and promoters and communicate to the fullest. At the same time, promoters used MySpace as an Avenue to promote specific bands, concerts and provision of tickets to various events. This prompted MySpace to connect with various musicians in order to come up with strategies that will enable them to become more popular online (Backstrom and Huttenlocher 52). This act led to the development of a different kind of relationship that did not exist in Friendster; Band-Fans relationship. Bands and other musicians were able to get the support of their fans via the site while fans were able to get the attention of their celebrities. This increased the rate at which the site grew. Another factor that made MySpace become a sustainable site was the fact that the site always integrated features that corresponded to the demand of its users. In addition, users also had the capability of customizing their pages as per their tastes and preferences.

By the year 2004, MySpace started to attract a new group; teens (Backstrom and Huttenlocher 52). This group of users joined the site for several reasons. A major factor that made them join the site was the fact that they would be able to connect with bands and rock stars. Older individuals introduced other teens to the site. Once they became active members, most teens encouraged their friends to join the site. The introduction of new users from a different generation into the site provided a serene environment for the site to become even larger than the founder had expected it to be (Backstrom and Huttenlocher 53). However, most of these new users were minors. To maintain them, MySpace amended its rules to allow minors to access the site.

Thus, by the end of 2004, MySpace had three different groups of users; bands, post-college individuals and teens. However, since the site did not gain public address from the media, a small proportion of the population knew of its existence. In 2005, News Corporation purchased the site at a fee of $580 Million (BBC 4). At this point, the publicity of the site increased due to the high media coverage that it gained. This in turn increased the number of users that the site had. However, the site soon began to experience criticisms from the media and the public. One of the main scandals that the site experienced was the allegation that it encouraged sexual encounters between adults and minors (Boyd and Ellison 218). This allegation led to the development of moral panic from the public towards the site and social network sites in general. However, after investigations were conducted, it was concluded that these allegations were exaggerated.

Social Network Sites Become a Global Phenomenon

By the end of 2005, MySpace had become the most popular social network site in the USA (Boyd and Ellison 218). However, at the same time, MySpace and other social network sites had begun to seek international audiences. Thus, the concept of social network sites begun to hit the global network. MySpace, for instance, was popular in the USA. However, the site was also popular in other overseas countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Orkut, a social network site that had an American Origin became the most popular social network site in Brazil. Later on, Orkut started to attract a massive audience in India. Other social sites that were operational at the time were Mixi, LunarStorm, Hyves and Hi5 that were operational in Japan, Sweden, Netherlands and Latin America respectively (Bahney 136). Bebo, one the other hand became quite popular in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

This phenomenon prompted various communication and community organizations and websites to adopt the concepts and features that social networks used. This ultimately transformed them to become social network sites. A prime example is QQ, a Chinese instant message site that adopted social network service features. With the creation of user-profiles and the development of friends list, QQ became the largest social network site in the world in terms of users. Cyworld on the other hand adopted the same concept. In the end, it managed to attract the Korean Market. Blogging sites that adopted social network sites features also became quite common. In the United States, for instance, blogging sites such as LiveJournal, Vox and Xanga managed to attract huge audiences within and outside the nation. In France, Skyrock, also a blogging site, was able to attract huge audiences among the French community. Windows Live Spaces, another blogging site, managed to attract a huge proportion of internet users in Mexico. Thus, according to Bahney (2010), the social network fiasco had become a global phenomenon by the end of 2005 and early 2006 (144).

The growth of these sites took different approaches. Some of the social network sites relied upon the users to spread the word about their sites. Other sites relied upon media coverage in order to improve the popularity of their sites. However, one of the most effective and efficient modes of expansion into larger markets was through the utilization of the concept of expanding niche communities (Neti 4). A social site that effectively used this concept was Facebook. Facebook commenced its operations as a social network site dedicated to join students from Harvard University. To achieve this, students within the university used the site as a platform to connect and communicate with their friends within the university partial.

Students also had the option of sharing videos and images with users who were found within their friend list. However, for an individual to open up an account with Facebook, he/she required to have a harvard.edu email address. This required thus limited users within the network to be only from Harvard University. With time, the network grew. This prompted the network to incorporate users from other universities. This thus made users connect with individuals from other universities. However, the requirement to join the site was still the same; users had to have email addresses that corresponded to their educational institutions. This requirement thus made Facebook to only be accessible to users within a specific community. As a result, users within the network developed an intimate relationship and culture as a result of the relationship that they had with each other and the site itself.

By the year 2005, Facebook incorporated high school students within their network. In addition, the site allowed corporate networks within the site. With this rapid expansion in the number of users, the site was finally open to the entire public during 2005. However, users who were not affiliated to any network within the site were not able to access the profiles of users who were within a specific network. To achieve this, such a user required to have a specific email address that would link him/her up with a specific network.

For the case of high school networks, users required to get approval from the administrator before they could access the profiles of users who were within these networks. The fact that a user could not completely fully disclose his/her profile to the public was an essential feature that made Facebook be a unique site as compared to other sites. In addition, Facebook was the only site at that time (Boyd and Ellison 219) that allowed outside firms to develop an application that users could use to enhance their profiles. This feature made Facebook become a renowned social network site. Thus, the application of the concept of expanding niche communities enabled Facebook to grow rapidly and attract huge numbers of users who were previously members of other social sites. By the year 2006, Facebook had become the major competitor of MySpace. By the year 2008, Facebook had become the most visited social network site online, thus passing MySpace with the number of users and the number of visitors it receives (Acquisti 12).

However, not all social network sites seek to achieve exponential growth in order to gather huge masses. There are those sites that try to narrow down their audiences. Thus, such sites only allow individuals with specific qualities to be part and parcel of their networks. A site like aSmallWorld, for instance, has specific requirements that users need to abide by in order to join its network. aSmallWorld requires its users to be elite and selective. Thus, not all the individuals who apply for an account with the site become users in the long run. There are also other sites that seek to attract users who are involved in a specific activity. CouchSurfing is a prime example of such a site. On the other hand, a site like BlackPlanet is identity-driven. On the other hand, a site like MyChurch tries to attract users with a specific affiliation; religion. Finally, since social network sites have become part and parcel of our lives, there are host services that help users to come up with their own social network sites. Ning is one among the several host services that help its users to create social sites that match their needs, interests, tastes and preferences (Acquisti 14).

Currently, social network sites have increased in numbers and size, especially on the internet. However, there is no current data that can be used to give out reliable information with regards to the number of social network sites that are currently in operation or the number of users of these platforms. However, according to Boyd and Ellison (2007), social network sites have already become a global phenomenon (217). Their operation and impacts can be felt in all the corners of the world. This phenomenon has thus made giant corporations to join in hand to ensure that social networks grow and thrive. To achieve these, corporations have been involved in the process of buying, promoting and advertising on these social sites. Due to the influence that social network sites have now, business entities have also tried to be affiliated with them in one way or the other to ensure that they gain popularity and public support, especially in regions that such entities are not entirely popular (Benzie 4).

However, as social networks are growing, there are those organizations that feel that these sites are not beneficial to the members of their communities. Several incidents have been reported of organizations blocking their employees from accessing social sites. The US army for instance blocked its employees from accessing MySpace. The Canadian government on the other hand banned the use of Facebook among its employees while on duty. At the present moment, there are bills that have been presented in the US Senate that will prohibit employees of educational institutions and their students from accessing social networks while they are within the institutions library, offices or any other facility (Benzie 5).

Most importantly, it should be noted that the growth of social network sites has brought about a huge shift in the manner in which online communities are now based. According to Gajalla (2007) websites were initially created to meet the interest of a specific community (194). This community would form the bulk of users who would access such websites. However, with the emergence of social network sites, this concept has changed. Social networks operate based on satisfying the needs and interests of individual users and not the community at large. Usenet is an example of an early community website.

The users of this site used to discuss a given topic that, in most cases was a contemporary issue. Thus, users would give their own thoughts and opinions towards the topic. However, current social network sites are structured in such a way as to meet the personal needs of its users. That is why in most social network sites, users have the option of updating their statuses. This, in most cases, will be used to show the current state of the user expressed in words. Thus, Boyd and Ellison (2007) asserted that social network sites are egocentric in their operation (218). They do not strive to achieve an overall goal that will lead towards the growth and development of a community but instead, they tend to satisfy the personal needs of their users. Thus, as social networks grow, the world will end up being made up of networks and not groups. Therefore, this brings about a new avenue of research that needs to be critically analyzed.

Problem Statement

The world has experienced a lot of creations and innovations as a result of the works of man. Since the creation of fire by the caveman, the development of the wheel, agrarian revolution and the industrial revolution are but some of the greatest eras in which the life of man and his environment experienced dramatic changes. At the present moment, the world is experiencing a technological revolution. Each and every day, the world is experiencing a lot of development in the field of information, communication and technology. As a result, the manner in which we think, operate and interact with each other and our environment has changed. One of the greatest innovations that man has come up with as a result of technological advancement is the development of social media and networks. These new phenomenon has taken over almost each and every perspective of our lives. It has taken over the manner in which we interact with each other and with ourselves, with businesses, societies, professionals, institutions and so on. However, like any other environment. It is due to this fact that it was essential to conduct this study. The aim of this study is to determine the role of social media, now and in future. This is a critical topic of research that its study shall reveal a lot about the manner in which social media gas impacted our lives.

Research Questions

The topic of this particular study concerns itself with contemporary issues. However, for the study to be effective and efficient, it is essential to narrow down the scope of the study. Due to this fact, four research questions were focused on in this study. These were:

  1. How has social media changed the lives of people?
  2. What impacts do social media networks have on businesses?
  3. Is social media a fad or is it a sustainable force that will change how we interact with one another and with businesses?
  4. How is social media evolving and what is its future?

Hypothesis

The following were the hypothesis of this study:

Ho1. Social media has a huge impact on the lives of people

HA1. Social media does not have a huge impact on the lives of people

Ho2. Social media has a huge impact on business entities

HA2. Social media does not have a huge impact on business entities

Limitations to the Study

  1. The time span for carrying the study is short and therefore the study may not capture the topic in detail.
  2. There could be little relevant secondary data to supplement the primary data.

Methods

This study took a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches. As a result, the study utilized several methods and approached to gather the relevant data that was required to give out the required information with regards to the research questions at hand. The following were the research questions that the study aimed at answering:

  1. How has social media changed the lives of people?
  2. What impacts do social media networks have on businesses?
  3. Is social media a fad or is it a sustainable force that will change how we interact with one another and with businesses?
  4. How is social media evolving and what is its future?

To answer the research questions, firstly, open-ended interviews were conducted. These interviews were conducted on individuals between the ages of 12-65 in order to establish the impact of social media on individuals of different age groups. At the same time, interviews were conducted on the managers and representatives of businesses. This was done to determine the impacts that social network sites have on businesses. These interviews were essential as they answered the first and second research questions. In addition to this, they provided a lot of information that was used to base arguments with regards to the third and fourth research questions.

The other method was used was situation analysis. This method incorporated a mixture of three sub-methods were used to determine the different constraints of social network sites. PESTEL analysis was the first method that was employed in the study. This method was used to determine the political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal factors that affect social media. SWOT analysis is also another method that was employed in the study. This method was used to determine the strengths, weaknesses opportunities and costs of social media. Additionally, Porter’s 5 Forces Analysis was used. This method was used to determine the market entry strategies of social network sites on the internet.

Population and Sample

The participants of this study will be individuals between the ages of 12 and 65 years. This age group is composed of individuals who are having a high tendency of using social network sites for one need or the other. This sample group will thus ensure that the attitudes and perceptions of the individuals contained in this age bracket are captured. As a result, the data that will be collected for the study and the inferences that will be made can easily be generalized to reflect the trends of the entire population.

The interviews were conducted in places where there was a high concentration of people. This included places such as common rooms, gymnasiums and student centres within universities, shopping malls, bus stations and subways. Random sampling technique was applied while selecting the individuals to be interviewed. This ensured that the interviews that were conducted were not biased. At the same time, business entities that were interviewed were also selected on a random basis. These businesses were mainly small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Research Design

To fully focus on the research questions, a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods was used. These methods ensured that all the aspects of the study were covered. This in turn increased the validity of the results. The data from the respondents that were collected from interviews was achieved by the use of questionnaires. In addition, the observation was also an essential tool in the research. The set of data that was collected using these methods were analyzed with a computer software package known as SPSS version 16.

Document Review

Document review is categorized as a qualitative research method. Document Review was a source of secondary information for the exercise. This data was obtained from books, magazines, peer-reviewed journals, online articles and other relevant sources. Through Document Review, some of the methods that had been used in the previous studies were borrowed and applied to the current study. Also, the recommendations of the previous studies were considered in the current work. Information from Document Review was therefore used as a guiding tool in conducting this study.

Interviews

Interviews are specifically useful in getting to know the experience of the interviewee on a particular subject of discussion. Interviews may seem much easier for the participant especially if only the opinions or impressions about a certain subject are being sorted. In the current study, in-depth interviews were adopted. This method was used to gather the relevant information that was required to determine the role that social medial play now and in future. The respondents, who were either members of the public or representatives of business entities, were interviewed based on the impacts that social network sites had on them. In this study, the interviews were conducted in a systematic manner. This method had been applied in other studies and as a result of its success, it was incorporated in the current study.

Observations

In this study, it was essential to conduct observations in order to validate the data that was collected from interviews and Document Review. To achieve this, a new account was opened up on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The observation was conducted with regards to the activities of individuals on friends lists and the mode that business entities used these as platforms for interacting with their customers through fun pages and advertisements. Thus, observations formed an essential part of a data collection method in the study. Observations were used to determine whether the interviewees and the general target group responded in a manner that is similar to the results that were collected from the interviews. After this analysis was done, the difference in behaviour was then identified and discussed. Observations were thus used to bring out a different perspective of the study hence making the inferences and arguments towards the research questions to be much stronger.

Situation Analysis

Several situation analysis models were used in this study in order to fully understand the operations and impacts of social network sites on individuals and business entities. To ensure that all the aspects of social network sites were covered effectively and efficiently, SWOT analysis, PESTEL analysis and Porters 5 forces were used. These models were also essential to the study since they played a critical role in answering the research questions of the study.

Data Analysis

Raw data from the field is of no use since it does not make sense. It is mainly composed of numbers and codes that need to be analyzed to make sense. Analysis of data involves three major steps:

  • Data preparation involves the organization of the data that has been collected for easy analysis.
  • Descriptive statistics that entails the description and interpretation of the data that has been collected. This can be done using charts and bar graphs to explain the trends that were observed.
  • Inferential statistics that was done to test whether the data that has been collected is consistent with the hypothesis of the study. This is where either the null hypothesis or alternative hypothesis is proved to be true.

Method: SPSS 16.0

For accurate analysis of the statistical data a computer programme called SPSS 16.0 was used for descriptive data analysis. The data were explored using descriptive statistics and histogram plots to determine the shape of the distribution for each sample variable. The name given to each variable for the data analysis was given in a table.

Data analysis was carried out using parametric tests where the data followed a normal distribution and where the sample number was equal to or greater statistical power. Where the data did not follow a normal distribution or where the data was split into groups of less than the sample size (n), a non-parametric test was used. For example, a Pearson correlation test was carried out on the data to explore any linear relationships between the variables (the relationship between results from interviews and results from observation).

Ethical Considerations

For the data to represent a true and fair view, the study had a few considerations on ethics. The data collection exercise was conducted within the heart of a society. It is here that it was possible to find interviewees both from the community and business representatives. The questions for the interviews were structured in a manner that avoided any conflicts with the traditions and religion. It mainly focused on collecting the data that was required for the study. Prior to the commencement of an interview, the respondents’ consents were sought. The purpose of the study was explained and the confidentiality of their information was guaranteed.

Results

The results that were found in the study were very interesting. The data that was acquired from the interviews were interpreted using the Likert scale. However, there were responses that could not be measured on the Likert scale. These were however used to back up the information that was gathered from Document Review. The results that were gathered clearly showed the attitudes and perceptions of the interviewees (people and business representatives) towards social network sites, a critical factor in determining the impacts of social network sites. Each question in the interview was used to measure a unique variable that was being tested in the study.

81 % of the people who were interviewed confirmed that they had used the internet within the past six months. Of this number, 74% stated that they used the internet on an almost daily basis. The main use of the internet that was gathered from the interviews included access to social network sites, seeking employment, blogging, shopping and dating. Of these constraints, the interviewees had the option of selecting more than one choice and a maximum of five. It emerged that 69% of the interviewees used the internet to access social network sites. Of all the respondents who were interviewed, an overwhelming 77% had accounts in online social network sites. The most common sites were Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

When asked why they are users of social network sites, a variety of responses were gathered. However, they all were in the same context. Most of these users preferred social network sites over other forms of interaction and communication since it was a faster form of communication, almost free (since they only need to incur internet costs that in some cases is available for free) and it was available at the comfort of their homes, work, school and even on their phones. However, most of the users chose social media over communication and interaction options due to its ease of use. The interface of these sites made it easy for users to sign up, find friends, create and update their profiles, communicate with people within the network and share pictures and videos. These features, according to most of them, were only available in social network sites and not in any other place. These responses thus led to the acceptance of the first hypothesis that stated that; Social media has a huge impact on the lives of individuals.

The results of the interviews that were conducted on business entities were also interesting. A total of 30 different business entities were interviewed. These were mainly located in high population concentration areas including malls and the central business district. Of all the business entities interviewed, 80% had adopted at least one form of e-commerce strategy in their operations. 73.3% of these businesses utilized social networks by having fun pages, for advertisements and as a means of interacting with their customers. A further 63% of the entities that were interviewed agreed on the fact that social networks have increased their sales and level of interaction with their customers. From the results that were obtained on the interviews that were conducted on business entities, the second hypothesis of the study was thus accepted. This hypothesis stated that; Social media has a huge impact on business entities.

However, to ensure the validity of the data that was collected from both interviews, it was essential to compare this with the data that was collected from observation. To gain data from observation, the activities that were conducted social networks were observed. It was observed that the number of people using social network sites was high. In a span of one week, the Facebook account had acquired over 200 friends. In this friend list, there were people as well as business entities. More than half of the friends on this list were online 24 hours a day. Approximately 30% of the rest logged in on a daily basis. These figures were achieved with the use of the user online indicator and user activities such as responding to messages, status update and other forms of communication or interaction.

There was also a high correlation between the responses that were received from the interviews that were conducted on individuals and the interviews that were conducted on business entities. Table 2 below shows the results for the correlation test.

Correlations
Individuals Businesses
Individuals Pearson Correlation 1 0.618
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.626
N 30 30
Businesses Pearson Correlation 0.618 1
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.626
N 30 30

Table 2.

A Pearson correlation of 0.618 implies a strong positive relationship with insignificance at 5%. This thus supports the acceptance of both the first and second hypotheses.

Discussion

From the results that were arrived at from the study, it is evident that social media has a huge impact in the world currently and its effects are expected for many years to come. This conclusion was arrived at after analyzing the information from the literature review and the data that was collected from the various methods that were used in the course of the study. Most of the respondents that were interviewed had accounts in at least one of the many social networks sites that are present on the internet.

In addition, most of the representatives of business entities were interviewed stated that their businesses adopted the concept of e-commerce and reaching their customers via social networks was one of their main strategies. In addition, from the information that was gathered from the literature review, it was found out that social network sites have financial backing from giant global companies. This will ensure their sustainability both in the short run and in the long run. Furthermore, from the literature review, it was identified that most of the giant social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have reached their break-even points and they are actually profitable at the moment. Other smaller sites have also turned out to be profitable or at least they can sustain themselves in the short run and in the long run.

The results that were gathered from the interviews that were conducted on normal users revealed that quite a high proportion of the study sample had accounts on one or more social sites that are present on the internet. The most common site that most users had accounts on was Facebook. It was followed by Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and YouTube. Most of these users felt that social network sites provided an easier platform that they could meet, interact share and communicate with friends and to some degree, strangers. In addition, social sites were also influential to them since they assisted them in gathering information, knowing about the latest events, a forum to discuss related issues with individuals with similar interest and most of all, an avenue through which they could project themselves to their friends and to the rest of the world (via the editing their profiles to match their needs, desires, tastes and preferences).

Another factor that was identified in the study was the ease at which users had while surfing on social network sites. From this, it was evident that social media has changed the lives of people in the modern world. Most of the respondents that were interviewed stated that they preferred social network sites as a medium through which they can search for people and information as compared to other traditional methods. When compared to the television, most of the respondents stated that the television was not interactive since what viewers do is only to watch. In addition, it was difficult for viewers to manipulate the content that was aired on television.

The radio on the other hand had similar criticisms. Here, respondents stated that listeners could only hear what was being aired over the network. Print media on the other hand lacked motion picture. The fact that some of the print media, for example, books, journals and magazines contain a lot of text made people disregard them. However, social media has come up with a different concept. While using social media, users are able to see, hear, see, read, communicate, edit to fit their tastes and preferences and very soon, social media is going to be available in 3 dimensions, a move that will be supported by Web 3.0 (Acquisti 16). Users are able to enjoy all of these features at the comfort of their home, cellular phones, places of work and so on. It is due to this fact that many people have joined social network sites and have become active users in the long run. Social media has thus taken over our lives and plays a critical role in the manner in which we interact, behave, communicate and acquire information (Acquisti 17).

Social media has also changed the manner in which businesses operate. Social media has affected the internal and external factors of most business entities in the world, especially in developed nations. As a result of the technological advancement that the world is currently experiencing, many businesses entities, regardless of their sizes, have adopted the concept of e-commerce. Here, businesses utilize various components in the field of information communication and technology in their normal operation. From this study, it is evident that social network sites have been utilized by many business entities as a means through which they can advertise and interact with their customers. In the world that we are living in, competition is present in almost every industry. Thus, to stand at a competitive edge of rival firms, many business entities are currently using social media as a means of understanding, reaching and satisfying the needs of their customers. In the process, such entities shall be able to retain their customers and attract new ones. This will make them be sustainable in the short run and in the long run.

However, social network sites themselves can be viewed as business entities. Due to their nature of business coupled with the high traffic that they have, social network sites have become prospective investments that many businessmen, corporations and global companies have invested in. Now, giant social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter are highly profitable. At the same time, the rate at which these companies grow is remarkable. Thus, due to their success, individuals and corporations have invested billions of dollars in this industry. For instance, News Corporation purchased MySpace in the year 2005 at a fee of $580 million (BBC 4).

The internet was developed by the US military during the 1950s and 60s to assist in their own internal communications. By 1995, the internet had grown and it hosted approximately 18,000 users. During this time, several web sites were emerging. Due to the great opportunities that the industry had, individuals invested in any prospective site that showed signs of being successful. However, during their early days, social network sites and other sites on the internet did not have a reliable revenue model. Investors believed that the sites that they invested in received desired hits and eyeballs, they would manage to recover their capital and earn profits after some time. However, it was not quite clear when web sites would reach this level. Thus, investors made their decisions based on the number of hits a site might get, consumer-based navigations, IT and so on.

Soon, the IPO of internet companies came. Because most internet companies lacked a solid model, most companies went into losses. Some even shut down just after the bubble burst. Amazon, Yahoo and MSN were among the few companies that managed to survive (Barnes 6). After the bubble burst, the internet experienced many changes. This gave new companies an opportunity to enter the social network market while the established ones experienced a chance to grow. A new form of revenue was also realised; advertising. At the present moment, the more hits a site gets, the higher chances it stands from benefiting from advertising. At the present moment, companies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube make millions of dollars annually from advertising alone. Application fees also increase the amount of revenue a social network site might make. Many developers upload their applications on social network sites. Some of these applications can be purchased by users. Thus, it is wise of a company or a developer to advertise its products in popular sites in order to get a higher response from their target market.

To enter the market, there are several factors that social network sites have to consider. In this study, Porter’s 5 forces were used to determine the competitiveness of this industry and the factors that make it attractive to investors. To determine this, five different aspects of the industry were analyzed. These aspects are summarized in Fig. 4 below (Kaplan 61).

Existing competitors
Fig. 4.

The first aspect of the industry that was identified was the ease at which new websites can enter the market. From the analysis that was conducted, not a lot of barriers to entry were present in this market. Users needed only to set up a website. The financial impact that is experienced while setting up a social network site is also low thus reducing the risk of investing in this venture. However, the major problem that social network sites face their marketing. However, once the website has gained a positive reputation, its chances of being successful are always high. It is due to this fact that at the present moment, there are thousands of social network sites present on the internet. However, the presence of many social network sites has raised the level of competition within the industry.

Competition is another factor that was considered in this model. The presence of high competition has made social network sites to come up with strategies and features that will differentiate them from other sites (Kaplan 62). This will in turn ensure that such sites have a competitive edge over their rivals. Facebook, for instance, came up with a strategy that enabled its users not to fully disclose their information to the public. In addition, it was the first site to allow outside developers to incorporate their applications that users used to enhance their profiles. This made the site to be attractive among other users hence became famous and by 2008, it was the most visited social network site (Stelzner 22). Other sites try to overcome competition by targeting a unique group. Sites such as Dogster and Catster attract individuals with a specific interest or passion. All these actions are in a bid of trying to overcome the concept of competition. However, the fact that these sites offer relatively similar services makes the competition among them to become even higher. This, coupled with the high rate of investments make sites to come up with features and strategies that will ensure their long term sustainability since they cannot afford to leave the industry.

The buyers power was also considered in this analysis. In this industry, the buyers are not always the users (although there are sites such as LinkedIn that charge their users in order to experience high-quality services) but the individuals who use the social network site portal to advertise themselves and developers who want to popularize and market their applications. At the present moment, many business entities regardless of their size have adopted the concept of e-commerce. One of the strategies that they have employed under e-commerce is advertising their services and products via social network sites. In addition, business entities use social network sites to interact with their customers in a bid to understand their needs, tastes and preferences. Thus, the number of buyers in this market is high. However, these buyers always want to advertise on sites that have a high level of traffic. It is due to this fact that sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, due to the high number of users and traffic that they attract, have many business entities advertising on them. This in turn makes smaller sites to come up with strategies of improving their operation in order to become better than the giants of the industry.

Suppliers power is also another important aspect that was considered under this model. However, in the social media industry, this constrain is difficult to analyze since the industry is relatively new. However, currently, social network firms are focusing on individuals who play an essential role in their stabilization. This includes digital operators, public relation professionals and marketers (Boyd and Ellison 220). For social network sites to be successful, they need to incorporate experienced individuals in this field to work for them in a bid to stand at a competitive edge over other sites present in the market (Nora 78).

The substitution effect is the last factor that was considered in this model. In this industry, the level of substitution, especially for established social network sites is relatively low. This is due to the fact that many buyers want to achieve maximum returns from the investments that they have made in these industries and thus they do not want to risk investing on small social sites for a cheaper price. However, the future of the social media industry is likely to change. The graph below shall be used to explain the reasons as to this (Kaplan 66).

Price/ performance trade off
Fig. 5.

At the present moment, social network sites are operating on the first two brackets of the graph. Here, the higher the price, the better the quality services that buyers are expecting to experience. A giant company like Facebook only has few substitutes such as Hi 5 and Orkut and this is outside the United States. However, with time, the awareness of buyers will increase after they realise that an increase in cost will not necessarily result in an increase in the quality of service. This will in turn increase the level of substitution within the industry and will give smaller industry and rivals alike a chance to grow and develop. This is the direction that the social media industry is currently taking.

Thus, from the analysis of these factors, it is evident that the social media industry is quite attractive due to the high profitability that firms are experiencing, the high level of competition and the great opportunities that they have. This has thus resulted in social network sites to come up with strategic plans in order to enjoy the benefits that accrue from the industry. To analyze this, this study conducted a SWOT analysis. This was an essential analysis as it clearly brought out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and costs that are present in the social media industry. The strengths and weaknesses were used to analyze the internal operating environment of social network sites while the opportunities and threats were used to analyze their external operating environment.

Internal Environment External Environment
Strengths Opportunities
Weaknesses Threats

Table 3.

Many factors act as the strengths of social networks sites. First, social network sites offer online users an experience that has never been experienced before. It is due to this fact that many users prefer social network sites over other forms of media such as radio, television, journals, magazines and so on (Kaplan 71). This is because social sites offer their users direct contact with other users. This is one of the major strengths of social network sites over other forms of media. Users are able to meet and communicate with each other directly. At the same time, business entities also have the chance of interacting with their customers. Although this is on a virtual basis, it brings about an experience that is almost similar to face-to-face communication.

Another strength of social network sites is that users are able to measure the impact that their online experience has on others. In Twitter, for example, users are able to check on the number of followers that they have. This is essential especially on business entities that want to use social media to reach out to a specific target market. Social networks sites also make business entities to have a human factor. This creates a strong relationship between the brand and its customers. Thus, by advertising and joining popular social network sites, businesses are able to attract large masses using minimal efforts. This in turn reduces the overhead cost of advertising and marketing. All these factors thus act as the strength of social network sites.

With regards to the SWOT analysis that was conducted in this study coupled with the literature that was gathered, the following weaknesses were identified. First, it is always difficult for individuals and brands that are users of social network sites to ascertain the effort that they have put versus the results that they have attained. This is especially so for business entities as it is difficult for them to ascertain the level of success that they have gained from social media on their other outreach programs (Neti 11).

Another weakness that social network has is that it required personal effort for users to achieve their goals and objectives via the social network platform. This weakness mainly affects brands more than people do. For brands to be successful in social media, they need to have people who fully understand them (the brands). In most cases, it is difficult to get such people and if they are found, it will be costly to maintain them (Stelzner 24). Another weakness of social media is that it is based on an environment that is constantly changing. Therefore, users and the hosts themselves need to ensure that their operations are up to date; an action that requires a lot of time, money and effort to achieve. Lastly, making up for mistakes, especially in the case of brands in social media is difficult. This is because of the high rate of exposure that users have thus more prompt actions are required to rectify such mistakes on social network sites as compared to other forms of media.

Opportunities and threats that social network sites face come from their external environment. A PESTEL analysis was conducted to examine the external environment of social network sites. This model focused on the impact of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal factors on social media. Social media has received a great deal of political applause all through its development. Despite the minor criticisms that the venture has received, many politicians have used the media to reach out to even more supporters online. This has thus changed the manner in which people interact with their politicians. Moreover, social network sites have also provided a forum through which people can share their ideas and discuss current political issues. Thus, politically, social media has brought about many changes that will have made the world to experience growth in politics (Gajjala 212).

Since their introduction until the present moment, social media has had a great impact on the global economy. Before and after the bubble burst, people and corporations have been investing in social network sites and other websites present on the internet. The value of social network sites is estimated to be approximately $75 billion to $100 billion. At the present moment, Facebook IPO is estimated at an alarming $5 billion (Kaplan 73). This is way higher than Googles 2004 IPO of $1.7 billion. In the last financial year, Facebook reported having had a revenue of $3.7 billion and a profit of over $1 billion. Google on the other hand had revenue of $37.9 billion, 96% of which came from the advertisement. The table below shows the top 10 internet IPOs (Kaplan 74).

The top 10 internet IPOs.
Table 4.

Thus, social network sites also provide an avenue through which brands can advertise their products. Facebook alone has over 750 million users from all over the world. Thus, advertising on such a network makes brands to stand a high chance of reaching their targets. Therefore, social network sites themselves are ventures that have high returns. In addition, they also support other businesses to grow and develop through e-commerce. This is essential in the growth and stabilization of the global economy.

Socially, social network sites enable their users to interact, communicate and share information and media files with other users across the network. In addition, social network sites also enable people with similar interests to meet and discuss a variety of issues. Social networks also enable brands to easily interact with their customers. Different social network sites have different goals and objectives that they want to achieve. In the process, they attract different users depending on their tastes, preferences and goals that they want to achieve. The most important thing is that users achieve all this at the comfort of their homes, offices or mobile phones. Thus, social networks have improved the level of interaction of users and brands.

Social networks are the results of the advancements that the world has been experiencing in the field of information, communication and technology (ICT). Since their introduction, social network sites have come up with a number of creations and innovations. These advancements have been as a result of technological advancements. Social networks have made it possible for users to interact and communicate with each other via a variety of methods. In addition, users are also able to send, receive and share media files across their networks. Social networks also provide a platform through which users can present themselves on the internet. Social networks sites also come up with new and interesting features to differentiate themselves in a bid to stand at a competitive edge over their rivals. In the near future, it is expected that social networks will be available in 3 dimensions. Thus, social networks support the growth and development of technology.

The world has experienced a lot of innovations. However, most of these innovations have adverse effects on the environment. The agrarian revolution and related developments in the field of agriculture have resulted in environmental pollution, deforestation, soil erosion and so on. The industrial revolution and related industries have resulted in air, sound and water pollution, poor waste management and so on. These factors result in poor health and living conditions, lack of basic necessities and so on. Social media on the other hand is based on a virtual context. Thus, it does not have any form of pollution or impact on the health or living standards of individuals. Thus, social media is an environmentally friendly development.

Although legal, many battles are being fought to protect social network sites and other internet-based organizations. Early 2012, the US Senate had two bills presented on its floor. These were the Protect IP Address Act and Stop Online Piracy Act. These two bills, if passed, will reduce the ease at which people use social network sites and other forms of internet media. These bills aim at eliminating piracy and making sites to be accountable for the actions of their users. This will thus mean that sites should separate themselves from those sites that offer files sharing service, a move that will go against the main theme behind the internet; networking. This will in turn reduce the confidence that users and hosts had on the internet.

From the discussions that have been presented in this paper so far, it is evident that social media is not a fad but an innovation that has managed to become an essential part of the lives of people at the present moment. In addition, from the analysis of factors, it is evident that social media will be a sustainable force in the future. There are innovations that have been revealed to the public but have failed to reach the goals and objectives of their developers. For instance, there have been a lot of developments in the field of intelligent machines. Several companies have developed machines with intelligence capabilities. Examples of these machines include vacuum cleaners and dishwashers that have the capability of communicating with their owners via various channels including the word of mouth. As per their designs, these machines are supposed to work effectively as per the orders of their owners. This would otherwise eliminate the need of having house helps around all the time.

However, such advancements failed to pick up in the market. Another advancement was the ability of vehicles communicating with their owners. Ford developed such a vehicle that had the capability of communicating with its owner using GPS technology. In addition, this advancement did not pick up in the market. Social networks on the other hand were introduced to enable people to interact with each other and through direct communication, sharing of information, pictures, videos and other forms of media files. Social networks have also enabled individuals to make friends and interact with other users within the network. Users also have the freedom to be members of more than one social network site. Therefore, this increases the thrill and experience that they gain from social networking. Currently, it is difficult to state the number of people who are members of social network sites. However, Facebook states that it has over 750 million users worldwide (Lazer 19).

This is a considerable proportion of the global population. In addition, Facebook is the site that experiences the most traffic on the internet. Therefore, this suggests that social media has taken over our lives. At the same the huge traffic that social media experiences make it to be a conducive avenue for brands to interact with their customers. This has been one of the key means through which businesses advertise their brands and interact with their consumers. Social network sites have thus made it easier for businesses to market their brands in order to reach even wider markets. Many brands have grown as a result of them being advertised over social networks. In the last financial year, Google had revenue of $37.9 billion and of this, 96% was from advertisements. Finally, social networks have become strategic ventures to invest in. The social media industry is valued at approximately $100 billion. The industry is only ten years old and from the manner in which it operates, the public support that it has, its technological backings and favourable legal requirements, this industry will continue to be sustainable in the short run and in the long run.

Social media has evolved from its humble beginnings as a platform for making people within small communities to interact with a multi-billion franchise. The industry had managed to take over the lives of individuals from different cultures, backgrounds, age, sex and race. Unlike other forms of developments, this industry has not been related to adverse effects on human life or the environment. The world that we are living in at the present moment is faced with a lot of problems. This includes high unemployment rates, economic instability, insufficient basic necessities such as food, water, fuel, land, changing weather patterns and so on. Social media on the other hand has come up with a different approach. The fact that it brings people together generates income and operate on a virtual level makes it to be sustainable in the short run and in the long run. In addition, many governments advocate for the venture since it has minimal negative effects on the environment. One major factor that has made social media to earn the support of many governments is the fact that it will lead to the elimination of the use of papers thus reducing the rates of deforestation and environmental pollution.

Although social media has a bright future, they do also have negative aspects. Social media has been linked to some negative cultural activities. One of the major negative incidence that social media has been linked in was the England riots that occurred between August 6th and 10th in 2011. These riots commenced in Tottenham after Mark Duggan, a resident of the area of shot dead by police on August 4th 2011. After the incident, the police failed to notify the family of the victim about the demise of one of their members. This led to a public protest in Tottenham on 6th August. During the protest, police tried to disperse the crowd and in the process, several people were injured including a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly pushed and punched by several police officers. These actions made the protest to turn out into a riot where characterised by looting and arson.

Police vehicles, magistrate courts and homes were burnt down. These acts sparked riots in other cities including parts of London, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham (Lazer 19). In the course of these riots, social media was pointed out as the tool that was used to organize the riots. It was alleged that BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), Twitter and YouTube were used to send inciting messages in one way or the other. For instance, videos that were posted on YouTube made the users of the network around the affected areas to join the riot. In addition, BBM was used to organize the time, place and activities that will be carried on by the rioters. Users to post their pictures in the course of the riot on the other hand used Facebook. In the end, six people had died, several had been injured, economic activities and transport systems had come to a standstill in the affected areas and properties valued at £200 million were destroyed. This incidence thus shows that social media is a powerful tool that can be used to pass information whether good or bad and in the process, this information will get the attention of the users who will respond accordingly.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Social media, as a tool of networking and communication begun off from humble beginnings. Its growth and development were in line with the growth and development of the internet. Therefore, the success that the industry I snow experiencing is highly dependent on the fact that the internet, as an innovation, became successful and sustainable. Social network sites have managed to make people connect and network with other users within and across networks. This has increased the level at which people in the world interact with each other and with brands that are using social network sites as an avenue for interacting, socializing and advertising themselves. Therefore, social media has become part and parcel of the modern lives of people and businesses in the world.

The social media industry is highly valued and this figure is expected to rise given the huge strengths and opportunities that it has. In addition, the industry has support from the people, governments, corporations and many other institutions in the globe. Therefore, this guarantees the sustainability of the industry in future. However, social media, due to the huge impact that it has on the lives of people, should be approached carefully. The manner in which it is used should be regulated in order to better the life of man and his environment. Due to this fact, it is highly recommended that the content that is passed across the platform should be checked in order to ensure that it leads to more good than harm. This will eliminate if not to reduce incidences such as the England riots of 2011. Therefore, social media is a strong force and the future of the world. If carefully used, it will be the greatest social invention that has man has ever experienced.

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