Social networking sites have been all the rage in the range of Web 2.0 tools. Almost everyone I know (including myself), has an account with Facebook, MySpace, or both.
So, what is the attraction of social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace? It is perhaps the natural human tendency and desire to form societies. The truth is, these sites makes it so much easier to form groups of "friends" based on the most mundane commonalities, like the city you live in or the school you went to. I am friends with some people from the schools where I went to, I do have many more friends with whom we have in common the fact that we live in the same relative place. Social networking sites do away with the constriction of space as an obstacle to make friends.
Which brings the question: what exactly is to be a friend in the digital realm? To what degree is an online friend similar to a "real" friend? This phenomenon is bound to change the meaning of the word "friend". Before these forms of communication became ubiquitous, a friend would be considered someone with whom we interact in close contact and share life experiences. Even the invention and proliferation of cellular phone technology did not seem to change the meaning of the word. A friend, whether we could see him/her in person or made contact with him/her on the phone, any time, anywhere, woulf remain someone with whom we had, at least a some point, interacted in a close physical manner. It is hard to imagine someone calling a particular city or campus and start asking whoever answered if they wanted to become friends. For someone on the other side of the line, living in the same city or going to the same school would not be enough to become friends, without seeing or recognizing the caller first.
On the other hand, people become friends on Facebook or MySpace without having to even establish any kind of close physical contact first. Simply because they live in the same geographical area or go to the same college. Why is that?
I think one of the reasons one can become a friend without having to have met previously is the amount of data about a person that Facebook and MySpace contain. If you have an account with these services, you would likely include a photo, as well as a profile, a snipet of information that attempts to describe yourself. This is enough to form a connection akin to a friendship in a social network site.
Whether this connection is comparable or even similar to be called a friendship, the way we usually know it, is still up to debate. Regardless, this form of social communication and organization is growing so fast it has become part of popular culture, not very different from old fashioned frienships.
Myspace and Facebook have enjoyed so much success that many other projects are out there where the basic blueprint from Facebook and Myspace is taken and used to organize people who seek to get together around a particular goal. I myself belong to a Ning group for one of my classes, the class being the common goal. we formed this mini social nettwork to collaborate and stay in touch. So far, it has worked well. but how well it will work, as compared to run of the mill, live, close contact collaboration is still to be decided, at least as far as I am concerned.