A Better Social Networking Support System in 2010?

Please retweetSometimes, I wonder what kind of support system people had before the rise of the Internet and telecommunications.  It was certainly much easier for people who lived in urban or suburban areas to gain access to support groups such as those that dealt with terminal illness, weight-loss, or quitting smoking, among many others.  However, many people who lived in rural areas were often left without such a support system, often turning to the people of their community, if they offered any help at all.

The Internet as we know it exploded in popularity since it became commercially available in 1993.  From 1993 to 2003, we made use of Web 1.0 technology, generally defined by the following characteristics:

  • Static pages instead of dynamic user-generated content.
  • The use of framesets.
  • Proprietary HTML extensions such as the <blink> and <marquee> tags introduced during the first browser war.
  • Online guestbooks.
  • GIF buttons, typically 88×31 pixels in size promoting web browsers and other products.
  • HTML forms sent via email. A user would fill in a form, and upon clicking submit their email client would attempt to send an email containing the form’s details.

From 2004 to the present, our usage of the Internet and the way we interact on it changed considerably and is duly defined within the parameters of Web 2.0 which include:

  • Search: Finding information through keyword search.
  • Links: Connects information together into a meaningful information ecosystem using the model of the Web, and provides low-barrier social tools.
  • Authoring: The ability to create and update content leads to the collaborative work of many rather than just a few web authors.  In wikis, users may extend, undo and redo each other’s work.  In blogs, posts and the comments of individuals build up over time.
  • Tags: Categorization of content by users adding one-word descriptions to facilitate searching, without dependence on pre-made categories.  This is referred to as “folksonomy”.
  • Extensions: Software that makes the Web an application platform as well as a document server.
  • Signals: The use of syndication technology such as RSS to notify users of content changes.

The technology by Web 2.0 includes “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax), Adobe Flash, and JavaScript/Ajax frameworks such as Yahoo! UI Library, Dojo Toolkit, MooTools, and jQuery.  Ajax programming uses JavaScript to upload and download new data from the web server without undergoing a full page reload”.

People were certainly impressed with each others’ websites to varying degrees when Web 1.0 technology was here.  Alas, the technology became passé and people transitioned to newer technology.  Even before the transition, however, people have become more social as a result of the Internet.  Casual Web designers created their websites on places such as GeoCities and Angelfire (remember those websites?) with static content and waited for people to visit their websites and post a guestbook entry, perhaps fellow website designers with their own sites to promote.  Vincent Flanders archived the techniques that worked and didn’t work here.

MySpace was literally on the cusp of the transition between Web 1.0 and 2.0 as the first few million users designed and created their profiles in a similar manner as described above.  However, Facebook embraced Web 2.0 technology from the start, forcing MySpace to play catch up.  The use of an application and chat bar on the bottom of the browser window is evidence that both websites use Web 2.0 technology.

Has Web technology improved, allowing us to communicate with people in different states, provinces and countries, seemingly without borders?  While it has in many ways, the improvement has made communicating with people wherever they are from more convenient.  In other words, people have already found ways to communicate with those far and wide even when technology was, well, primitive at first.  People who feel isolated from their own communities for one reason or another have turned to the Internet to find people with whom they can communicate.  Ostensibly, the first people to use the Internet to communicate relied solely on words in bulletin board systems, or BBS, and later on, chatrooms.  Nowadays, we have YouTube, Skype, and webcam applications built into instant messenger applications to serve the same purpose although we still use chatrooms.  Meanwhile, the rise of social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook have allowed people to find each other online more easily than ever.  If the Internet is the Wild West and we are the sheep, scattered about across vast swaths of grassy plains, social networking websites using Web 2.0 technology is the cowboy that herds us together and helps us to find each other.

What does the future hold?  I try my best to keep up with the latest technology, but even I cannot predict what is to come.  If the current use of 3-D projectors in movie theaters is a progenitor of things to come, the technology presented in the movie, “Avatar” may be the next step.  Who knows how close we already are?

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Francis M. Unson

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