Beyond MySpace: Emerging Online Social Network Models

Published October 1, 2007

Social network sites can take widely differing security approaches., for example, is an “open field” for social networking. Anyone may go there and quickly run a search among the people who have registered on the site. Search criteria can include sex, age, purpose (such as whether a registrant is seeking friends or romance), and proximity to a specific zip code.

Within seconds, listings created by registered MySpace users appear. Some are minimal, featuring a photo and a list of interests, whereas other listings are decked out with music, electronic wallpaper, photos of other MySpace friends, etc.

Once registered, an individual may send messages to any of the listings and invite others to be MySpace friends. As MySpace warns in its “Privacy” page, anything posted in a MySpace profile can be seen by any of the millions of monthly MySpace visitors.

‘Walled Gardens’

Facebook, by contrast, enables its users to create walled gardens in a large field. Unlike MySpace, Facebook requires visitors to register before gaining access to any other user’s profile. And to join a Facebook company network–such as those for Citicorp and Ernst & Young–a user must have a legitimate email address from that company.

Facebook users also may tailor access to their listings–blocking some people from viewing, limiting portions of it to others, and providing full access to trusted users.

“We’ll continue to see a broad spectrum of social networking options, but the real growth in the area will be in the walled garden model,” said Adam Thierer, a senior fellow with the Progress & Freedom Foundation in Washington, DC.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the site’s slightly more restrictive approach to access is designed to mimic the real world, in which most people seek out friends of like minds and interests.

Increasing Safeguards

Social networking sites targeted to “tweens” are using that concept to build even smaller gardens, with most touting their safety features to parents., designed for teens, has the open feel of MySpace but offers some safeguards, including the requirement for parents to activate a teenage user’s account. Parents and teachers may also join, but their identities must be confirmed by fax, phone, or credit card.

The ultimate in social networking gardens may just now be gathering steam. Software is available that lets individuals create their very own social networks to connect friends, family, and small groups.

Sharon J. Watson