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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 September 2006, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Rise of the web's social network
By Marc Cieslak
Reporter, BBC Click

Since its beginning, the web has often been used as a tool to meet new people, but in recent years the interaction between web-users has grown dramatically, spawning a new generation of networking sites.

Bebo website
Some networking sites allow users to swap video and images

The notion of Web 2.0, or an internet model where content is created and shared by users, has given birth to some of the most popular sites the internet has ever seen. So much so, that anybody who is anyone, wants to be part of the online social networking scene.

Sites like Bebo, Friendster and Myspace have fuelled the social networking trend.

At first glance the sites could be dismissed as posh blogs, but tools that make it simpler to post text, photos, music and now home-grown video have turned social networking into an online phenomenon.

Bebo's Sarah Gavin says: "It's really powerful. I think it's the first time that individuals have got the power.

"We've got authors up there publicising their books. If they're just starting out as a film producer they have the opportunity to get their content up on the site and go out to the general public to see what they actually think about it.

"It's a hugely powerful medium and people are just starting to grasp how effective that can be."

Musicians Lily Allen and Jamie Cook from the Arctic Monkeys
Artists like Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys have used Myspace as a springboard to success
In 2003, a site was unleashed on the net that would change everything; a site so popular and influential it has launched the careers of pop stars and was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $580m (310m). That site is, of course, Myspace

The inclusion of music on Myspace has been one of the biggest reasons for the site's success.

Unknown artists have demonstrated that social networking sites can be an effective means of promoting themselves. Artists like Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys have used Myspace as a springboard to success.

Making connections

It is not just bands who have adopted social networking sites as a means of promotion.

Club and radio DJ Dan Greenpeace was introduced to Myspace by friends in America last year.

It's a much more personal and interactive way of communicating with people
Dan Greenpeace, DJ and Myspace user
Dan Greenpeace: "I use Myspace primarily for networking.

"What I like about it is people can access me and access information about myself and what I'm working on.

"It's a much more personal and interactive way of communicating with people out there who are actually interested in what you're doing."

While Myspace enjoys the largest slice of the social networking pie, rival sites such as Bebo have hit back, introducing the same sorts of features that have made Myspace such a success.

I think the future of social networks still lies in the connections between people and the potential that lies in these connections
Martin Stiksel, Last FM
Bebo's Sarah Gavin says: "We've added a few things.

"One of the key things for us was music, which has been hugely successful for us.

"We've got over 100,000 bands signed up in six weeks. The other thing we've really seen in the last 12 months is a trend with video."

'Knowledge pool'

On the smaller end of the scale, sites are specialising to appeal to specific groups.

Dedicated music network Last FM uses software called audioscrobbler to track the musical tastes of its members.

These profiles can be used to suggest community groups that like the same music, or introduce its members to new music which matches their existing profile.

Last FM's Martin Stiksel says: "I think the future of social networks still lies in the connections between people and the potential that lies in these connections between people."

He added: "If there is a possibility to pool all of this knowledge, like there is in a social network, to the benefit of everybody, that's a really, really powerful thing."

'Closed communities'

Beautiful people website
Some social networking sites restrict who can use their site
While most social networking sites do not discriminate, and allow anybody to log on, a few sites have cropped up with a very particular sort of user in mind.

Beautiful People's entry criteria are simple - good looks.

Beautiful People's Greg Hodge says: "Beautiful People is like an elite online club where every member works the door.

"Essentially you put up a picture and a profile where you're rated over a three day period by members of the opposite sex on whether or not they deem you attractive enough.

"It is not just, as you'd expect, a dating site. It's become a site where people will help each other find apartments, find work, they have sensational parties."



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