Social Networking Copycats

The world wide web is filled with websites of many different kinds. Some are personal websites, such as this one here; some are informational websites, such as college sites; some are just for fun, such as flash game sites. But the most popular type of websites is the social networking sites. There are thousands of social networking websites on the Internet, and even more can be created daily using a builder such as Ning. There are many different types of social networking websites on the web as well, ranging anywhere from an all around social site, to one specifically built for fans of a certain hobby. Not every social networking website is popular, or as popular as some of them out there. In an attempt to try and be as popular as the most visited social networking sites, other sites will copy, using that term loosely, some of their features in order to catch the attention of the users who were interested in said feature. Lately though, the changes have become blatant copycats of the original idea, bringing in question what makes one social networking website unique from all of the others.

Excuse me... what? (Credit: Screenshot by Weasel Terrahawk from Facebook)

Probably the first major feature that was added to social networking sites that really made them popular on the web was “Applications”. Applications can be anything from informational statistics about your friends, quizzes that you can fill out or even full fledged flash games built into the site’s design. One of the first pioneer of Applications was Facebook, a rapidly growing open social networking site that uses your real name, so that you can keep up with your friends, or reconnect with past friends who you may have lost contact with since your schooling years. Applications brought in the more casual social web surfer, as it offered them a variety of ways to pass the time without having to visit tons of websites. After the rampant success of Applications, other social networking websites found that this was an effective method of bringing in users. In a flat-out copy, MySpace followed suit by adding the ability for Applications to be used within their interface. While MySpace still has not caught up to the masses of members that Facebook gained when they opened themselves up to the public, this has helped stem the tide of users who stopped using MySpace when it had nothing more to offer than to listen to indie bands’ music on their profile page.

One of the newest and most growing social networking sites out there right now is Twitter. Twitter is a unique site which allows users to submit a status update that is limited to 140 characters. Many people ask why this is, as it seems detrimental to giving people the whole story that you want to post, but the idea of Twitter was to integrate communication between the web and cell phones via text messaging. A text is limited to 160 characters per page, so to be able to receive updates, the update is limited to 140 characters, and gives enough room for a username to also be added to the text. In doing this, it also forces people to not ramble on about whatever it is that they want to get across to their followers, it just gives them the gist of it in an easy and quick to read message.

@ Tagging on Facebook (Credit: Screenshot by Weasel Terrahawk from Facebook)

Twitter has many simple features built into it. When you sign up, you create a username for yourself, so that other people can find you, as with any website. Other Twitter users can communicate with you and reply to any of your tweets by putting an @ sign in front of your username, and submitting an update in that fashion. This will alert you that the tweet that that user submitted is aimed towards you. Recently, Facebook has been taking hints from Twitter, and copying some of their ideas in order to try and appeal to a wider audience. First, Facebook changed the saying in the update status box to “What’s on your mind?”, which is very similar to Twitter’s “What are you doing?”. In a most recent update, Facebook has added the ability to “tag” one of your friends, by adding an @ sign in front of their name when you type it into the status update box. It seems that using an @ sign to be able to communicate to another person, or to be able to mention someone else has become something more popular on the Internet after the Twitter phenomenon occurred.

Every social networking website is unique in their own way, in at least a few features, but in most cases, they are each the same. A classic argument has been that Twitter and Facebook are completely different in the way they operate, but when you look at the general idea of the websites, they don’t differ much at all. Before applications became the popular reason to want to join, it was all about linking up with your current and former classmates and friends in order to keep up with what was going on in their lives, and status updates were the only thing that the site provided. To this day, Facebook continues to rely on the idea of status updating as the main source of content through their site. Twitter took the idea of status updating, and simplified it, creating something so similar that Facebook now offers a Twitter application that allows it to update your Facebook status. MySpace also joined in to the world of status updating not too long ago as well.

Look familiar? (Credit: Screenshot by Weasel Terrahawk from Facebook & Twitter)

Overall, there are hundreds of social networking websites out there, but if you’re looking for something unique that stands out, you won’t find much, unless you’re looking for something geared towards a specific audience. If you’re a fan of anime, the most popular website would be Gaia Online; if you’re looking for the biggest community, you’d want Facebook; and if you’re looking for most straight forward, and easiest to access via the most amount of methods, you would want to sign up for Twitter. In general though, it’s shocking how few differences there are between many of the social networking sites out there nowadays.

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