More time than ever is directed towards the exploration of social networking and its uses.
Online users are spending almost three times the amount of time as the previous year on blogs and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Myspace, according to a recent report by the Nielsen Company.
The Nielsen Co. is one of the world’s leading suppliers of marketing and media statistics.
Social networking is not exclusively social. Throughout the years, virtual spaces such as Facebook have adapted to accommodate a much broader set of uses.
“Facebook is interesting because it has taken on so many different uses,” said John Theobald, lecturer at the UC Davis Department of Communication. “I remember when students began to use it to get in touch and to stay in touch. Now it has mutated into something that has political content and marketing content.”
According to the Sacramento Business Journal, even with the current recession, the amount of money spent on advertising on social networking sites and blogs has skyrocketed from $49 million in August 2008 to almost $108 million only a year later.
“We’ve seen more and more ways for technology to be permeated by marketing,” Theobald said. “More and more it can be used for commercial purposes.”
Susanne Rockwell, the senior public information representative for the UC Davis News Services, was granted a fellowship earlier this year to study how certain companies and colleges are employing social networks. Her research explores how different institutions use social media to support their projects. She is currently in the process of sending out surveys to communication and fundraising professionals at universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rockwell, who is also in charge of the UC Davis Facebook page, as well as University Communications blogs – many by UC Davis professors – said such research is beneficial to the entire campus.
“It’s about widening the circle of friends, bringing more friends into the university who care about it,” Rockwell said.
Blogs are becoming so popular that for the second year in a row, Time Magazine has created a list of the 25 best blogs of the year, along with the five most overrated.
The blogging world now has its own exposition; the 2009 BlogWorld and New Media Expo, which will be held Oct. 15 in Las Vegas.
Nicki Sun, a senior communication major and writing and contemporary leadership minor, is one of many student bloggers.
“When I first started out, it was just supposed to be my online portfolio, and then I started realizing that people were reading it” Sun said.
Her site, nickisun.com, has since transpired into a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, an archive for her many activities and a source of information for potential employers.
“It makes it easier for everyone to have a common social network,” Sun said.
Blogs and Facebook are also emerging as front-runners in political uses. For example, Theobald said Facebook can be used as a forum for political and social discussion for complex topics, such as religion. The anonymity of virtual discussion – as opposed to face-to-face conversation – facilitates easier expression.
“We’re now seeing Facebook used for [both] the creation of different secular groups and very traditional groups in their interpretation of Islam,” Theobald said. “[Facebook] has created an environment of a great deal of political interaction that just didn’t exist in the Islamic world before.”
Like most students, Kunal Patel, sophomore exercise biology major, uses Facebook and Twitter for social purposes. On Facebook, Patel is a member of the UC Davis Entertainment Council group which updates him on campus events, such as free movie screenings.
“A lot of my friends like [Twitter] because it’s short and sweet,” he said. “I don’t have [an account] but it seems cool to me. It’s like a mini-blog.”
Facebook was founded in 2004 and Twitter followed suit in 2006. Research and statistics on social networking sites and blogs are hard to come by due to their ever-increasing numbers and relatively brief existence.
“If anything,” Theobald said, “it really shows you that it’s impossible to predict how the applications of the Internet are going to change things.”
KELLEY REES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.