From the Wikipedia:
"A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes. The resulting structures are often very complex.
Social Network Analysis views social relationships in terms of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual actors within the networks, and ties are the relationships between the actors. There can be many kinds of ties between the nodes. Research in a number of academic fields has shown that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.
In its simplest form, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network_analysis)
"A social network is composed of a collection of actors where some actors are connected to each other by one of more relations. The emphasis on a network that reflects a social structure forms an underlying assumption. Understanding social networks requires analysis of the structural relations between actors and the patterns of interaction among actors. Once comprehended, the influence of social networks on the perceptions, beliefs and actions of its participants can be better comprehended."
"danah boyd and Nicole Ellison recently proposed that the term should be social network, rather than social networking sites because the latter implies that active searching for and engagement with new people. Facebook and other sites aren’t really about meeting new people, they’re about growing and maintaining existing relationships with people we already know."
The Evolution from Social Networking to Social Media
"As the original name suggested, social networking involved connecting, not publishing. By connecting your personal network of trusted contacts (or “strong ties,” as sociologists call them) to others’ such networks (via “weak ties”), you could surface a larger network of trusted contacts. LinkedIn promised to make job searching and business networking possible by traversing the connections of your connections. Friendster did so for personal relationships, Facebook for college mates, and so on. The whole idea of social networks was networking: building or deepening relationships, mostly with people you knew. How and why that deepening happened was largely left to the users to decide.
That changed when social networking became social media around 2009, between the introduction of the smartphone and the launch of Instagram. Instead of connection—forging latent ties to people and organizations we would mostly ignore—social media offered platforms through which people could publish content as widely as possible, well beyond their networks of immediate contacts. Social media turned you, me, and everyone into broadcasters (if aspirational ones). The results have been disastrous but also highly pleasurable, not to mention massively profitable—a catastrophic combination.
The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system—a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active—hyperactive, really—spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.
A 2003 paper published in Enterprise Information Systems made an early case that drives the point home. The authors propose social media as a system in which users participate in “information exchange.” The network, which had previously been used to establish and maintain relationships, becomes reinterpreted as a channel through which to broadcast.
This was a novel concept. When News Corp, a media company, bought MySpace in 2005, The New York Times called the website a “a youth-oriented music and ‘social networking’ site”—complete with scare quotes. The site’s primary content, music, was seen as separate from its social-networking functions. Even Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook, to “connect every person in the world,” implied a networking function, not media distribution.
The toxicity of social media makes it easy to forget how truly magical this innovation felt when it was new. From 2004 to 2009, you could join Facebook and everyone you’d ever known—including people you’d definitely lost track of—was right there, ready to connect or reconnect. The posts and photos I saw characterized my friends’ changing lives, not the conspiracy theories that their unhinged friends had shared with them. LinkedIn did the same thing with business contacts, making referrals, dealmaking, and job hunting much easier than they had been previously. I started a game studio in 2003, when LinkedIn was brand new, and I inked our first deal by working connections there.
Twitter, which launched in 2006, was probably the first true social-media site, even if nobody called it that at the time. Instead of focusing on connecting people, the site amounted to a giant, asynchronous chat room for the world. Twitter was for talking to everyone—which is perhaps one of the reasons journalists have flocked to it. Sure, a blog could technically be read by anybody with a web browser, but in practice finding that readership was hard. That’s why blogs operated first as social networks, through mechanisms such as blogrolls and linkbacks. But on Twitter, anything anybody posted could be seen instantly by anyone else. And furthermore, unlike posts on blogs or images on Flickr or videos on YouTube, tweets were short and low-effort, making it easy to post many of them a week or even a day.
The notion of a global “town square,” as Elon Musk has put it, emerges from all of these factors. On Twitter, you can instantly learn about a tsunami in Tōhoku or an omakase in Topeka. This is also why journalists became so dependent on Twitter: It’s a constant stream of sources, events, and reactions—a reporting automat, not to mention an outbound vector for media tastemakers to make tastes.
When we look back at this moment, social media had already arrived in spirit if not by name. RSS readers offered a feed of blog posts to catch up on, complete with unread counts. MySpace fused music and chatter; YouTube did it with video (“Broadcast Yourself”). In 2005, at an industry conference, I remember overhearing an attendee say, “I’m so behind on my Flickr!” What does that even mean? I recall wondering. But now the answer is obvious: creating and consuming content for any reason, or no reason. Social media was overtaking social networking.
Instagram, launched in 2010, might have built the bridge between the social-network era and the age of social media. It relied on the connections among users as a mechanism to distribute content as a primary activity. But soon enough, all social networks became social media first and foremost. When groups, pages, and the News Feed launched, Facebook began encouraging users to share content published by others in order to increase engagement on the service, rather than to provide updates to friends. LinkedIn launched a program to publish content across the platform, too. Twitter, already principally a publishing platform, added a dedicated “retweet” feature, making it far easier to spread content virally across user networks.
Other services arrived or evolved in this vein, among them Reddit, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, all far more popular than Twitter. Social networks, once latent routes for possible contact, became superhighways of constant content. In their latest phase, their social-networking aspects have been pushed deep into the background. Although you can connect the app to your contacts and follow specific users, on TikTok, you are more likely to simply plug into a continuous flow of video content that has oozed to the surface via algorithm. You still have to connect with other users to use some of these services’ features. But connection as a primary purpose has declined. Think of the change like this: In the social-networking era, the connections were essential, driving both content creation and consumption. But the social-media era seeks the thinnest, most soluble connections possible, just enough to allow the content to flow."