The past few years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of registered users of these interactive online communities. MySpace, the king of the cyber jungle, catalogs approximately 113 million users. Hi5 accounts for 50 million users; Xanga, 40 million; and Friendster, 29 million. In addition, there are at least 300 other social networking websites online.
Though all have their own niches in the market, several commonalities exist between these different sites. All offer interactive online communities that promote the expansion of global villages, facilitating communication between users. They promise a place to hear and be heard.
Can they deliver? Do these sites launch a global dialogue, or just act as self-promoting time-wasters? A peek into a few online social networks helps distinguish between them.
MySpace's tagline is a place for friends. The expansive, visually chaotic website coaxes you to expand your network of friends by creating a profile, connecting with current friends and searching for new or lost ones.
But the adolescent attractions don't end there. You can comment on friends' profiles as well as upload your own photos, films and music. You can register for e-mail, start a blog, join groups, search for events, listen to others' music and watch videos. In essence, you can become your own almighty webmaster.
Unlike Facebook, you can do whatever you want with your MySpace page, said Sarah Robison '07. It's also appealing because you can find friends you've completely lost touch with. I got MySpace because basically everyone I know in California has it.
Blog websites, like Xanga and LiveJournal, focus on the exchange of diary entries, with a secondary emphasis on networking and sharing data like photos or videos. Xanga, The Weblog Community, also provides security to its users by restricting access to anyone who is not registered. This practice differs from the free-for-all MySpace alternatives.
I like Xanga because it has more security features than MySpace and is less creepy. It also saves me from e-mailing friends back home and acts more like a traditional blog, said Ryan Christensen '07.
YouTube, a user-supported video database, urges you to broadcast yourself by viewing and sharing videos, creating a visually stimulated Web society. However, many Oles use it less as a community builder and more as a distraction.
My roommate and I watch videos on YouTube when we are bored or have so much to do that we just give up and zone out, said Bilal Alkatout '07.
On the whole, the St. Olaf market has particularly favored Facebook, which dominates collegiate networking sites with seven million registered users. Amy Russ '09, who does not use any alternative social networking site, said other sites are handy if you have unlimited time and nothing better to do.
While an aim of these sites is to share and connect to a global audience, they are also linguistic, visual, and auditory collages of identity. Perhaps something is awry when technological validation is necessary. All we can hope for is the emergence of another e-trend to grant us salvation.