Several websites are beginning to tap into the power of the social networking model for social good. Such models may be highly successful for connecting otherwise fragmented industries and small organizations without the resources to reach a broader audience with interested and passionate users. Users benefit by interacting with a like minded community and finding a channel for their energy and giving. Examples include SixDegrees.org (Kevin Bacon).
Typical structure of a social networking service
In general, social networking services, such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo, allow users to create a profile for themselves. Users can upload a picture of themselves and can often be "friends" with other users. In most social networking services, both users must confirm that they are friends before they are linked. For example, if Alice lists Bob as a friend, then Bob would have to approve Alice's friend request before they are listed as friends. Some social networking sites have a "favorites" feature that does not need approval from the other user. Social networks usually have privacy controls that allows the user to choose who can view their profile or contact them, etc.
Some social networks have additional features, such as the ability to create groups that share common interests or affiliations, upload videos, and hold discussions in forums. Geosocial networking co-opts internet mapping services to organize user participation around geographic features and their attributes.
Few social networks currently charge money for membership. In part, this may be because social networking is a relatively new service, and the value of using them has not been firmly established in customers' minds. Companies such as MySpace and Facebook sell online advertising on their site. Hence, they are seeking large memberships, and charging for membership would be counter productive. Some believe that the deeper information that the sites have on each user will allow much better targeted advertising than any other site can currently provide. Sites are also seeking other ways to make money, such as by creating an online marketplace (Facebook's Marketplace) or by selling professional information and social connections to businesses: such as LinkedIn.
Social networks operate under an autonomous business model, in which a social network's members serve dual roles as both the suppliers and the consumers of content. This is in contrast to a traditional business model, where the suppliers and consumers are distinct agents. Revenue is typically gained in the autonomous business model via advertisements, but subscription-based revenue is possible when membership and content levels are sufficiently high.
On large social networking services, there have been growing concerns about users giving out too much personal information and the threat of sexual predators. Users of these services need to be aware of data theft or viruses. However, large services, such as MySpace, often work with law enforcement to try to prevent such incidents.
In addition, there is a perceived privacy threat in relation to placing too much personal information in the hands of large corporations or governmental bodies, allowing a profile to be produced on an individual's behavior on which decisions, detrimental to an individual, may be taken.
Furthermore, there is an issue over the control of data - information having been altered or removed by the user may in fact be retained and/or passed to 3rd parties. This danger was highlighted when the controversial social networking site Quechup harvested e-mail addresses from users' e-mail accounts for use in a spamming operation.
Social network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as MySpace and Facebook, has been used by police, probation, and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on MySpace has been used in court to determine an appropriate sentence based on a defendant's attitude.
Facebook is increasingly being used by school administrations and law enforcement agencies as a source of evidence against student users. The site, the number one online destination for college students, allows users to create profile pages with personal details. These pages can be viewed by other registered users from the same school which often include resident assistants and campus police who have signed-up for the service.