The Worlds of MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook: First Systematic Analysis of "Connector Websites" Examines Online Social Search and Networking

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Social networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, and MSN Spaces have demonstrated "exponential change and growth", according to a new research report released today from Blau Exchange - an online hub for research and commentary examining the social effects of the World Wide Web.

younger connector websites may want to very seriously consider and learn from the start-up experiences of first and second generation connector websites.

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Social networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, and MSN Spaces demonstrated "exponential change and growth" from May 2005 to June 2006, according to a new research report released today.

Blau Exchange -- an Indianapolis-based online hub for research and commentary examining the social effects of the World Wide Web -- had presented its key findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) on Aug. 11, 2006, in Montreal.

The study also finds that websites in a booming "online social networking industry" are distinguishing themselves along user-defined interests and needs areas. "New startups are specializing, and the industry is now quickly evolving," said Paul DiPerna, Blau Exchange's founder and the study's author.

"The report attempts to bring together different research perspectives across a range of academic disciplines, such as Sociology, Library & Information Science, and Economics. The study introduces a new concept, the 'connector website', and the analysis examines the organizational contexts and user traffic trends associated with highly publicized 'social networking websites' such as MySpace, Facebook, Classmates.com, and Friendster," said DiPerna.

Blau Exchange conducted a test for each of thirteen connector websites to determine whether or not one exhibited "exponential change over time". Each of at least five (almost six) connector websites more than doubled monthly user traffic growth from May 2005 to June 2006. Standout examples are Flickr (540 %), Tagged (286 %), and MySpace (236 %). Based on traffic trend estimations, four connector websites -- Flickr, MySpace, MSN Spaces (now called Windows Live Spaces), and Facebook -- showed strong exponential growth over the time period. LiveJournal was the only connector website to substantially lose users. Volatility appears to be a nagging characteristic of relatively younger connector websites like Flickr, Tagged, Orkut, and Bebo.

The report suggests that connector website organizations and their online communities may need some time to mature for attaining sustainability in terms of user traffic. A connector website's age may be associated with website traffic momentum and volatility. DiPerna advises that "younger connector websites may want to very seriously consider and learn from the start-up experiences of first and second generation connector websites."

Also over the past year, the study found the connector website industry has begun to evolve, and newer websites are beginning to distinguish themselves from the older pioneers that sought as many users and profiles as possible. Connector websites are specializing their missions and focusing branding efforts on users' more specific needs, interests, and priorities.

Some examples of new connector website themes and organizing topics include: political campaigns and elections (hotsoup.com); religious expression and sharing (biblelounge.com; christianvibes.com); car and truck enthusiasts (carspace.com); family-based networks (famoodle.com; thefamilylog.com); pet ownership (petboogaloo.com); the World Cup (joga.com); golfing (golfbuzz.com); mental health support (realmentalhealth.com); wedding preparations and references (shareweddings.com); and world travel (gusto.com).

The Blau Exchange study concluded that individuals and society will have to continue making trade-offs regarding competing social values. The benefits countering information security and privacy risks include convenience and empowerment in making choices, reliability of other users' personal experiences and judgments (rather than impersonal commercial messages), and efficient communications and transactions.

The report's executive summary can be accessed at:

http://pauldiperna.typepad.com/Connector_Website_Model_ExecSumm.pdf

The full report can be viewed at:

http://pauldiperna.typepad.com/Connector_Website_Model_FullReport.pdf

Contact:

Paul DiPerna

TEL: 202-641-1858

About the study's author: Paul DiPerna recently finished a term of more than six years as a social science researcher and administrator at the Brookings Institution, a leading international think tank. Since June 2004, DiPerna has been examining websites as social organizations and online communities as evolving social systems. He has published his research in First Monday. DiPerna founded Blau Exchange in July 2006.

About Blau Exchange: Blau Exchange is an Indianapolis area weblog project, serving as a hub for research and commentary that focus on the social contexts and social effects of websites and their online communities. Blau Exchange's main purpose is to serve as an intermediary between various professional groups interested in the socially evolving Web. It is responsible for collecting, organizing, and presenting timely and relevant references and links to its online community.

Blau Exchange will be in a test phase through January 15, 2007. The weblog is named in honor of Peter Blau, one of the 20th century's most influential sociologists.

Blau Exchange's Website: http://www.blauexchange.org

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