What Is a Social Networking Service?

A social networking service (SNS) is an online vehicle for creating relationships with other people who share an interest, background, or real relationship. Social networking service users create a profile with personal information, photos, etc. and form connections with other profiles. These users then use their connection to grow relationships through sharing, emailing, instant messaging, and commenting. Social networking services may also be referred to as a "social networking site" or simply "social media."

Social Networking Services Explained

The first SNS, SixDegrees.com was started in 1997 and was soon followed by Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. Today there are a wide range of SNS and approximately 75% of Americans have SNS profiles. SNS range from sites where users have general interests to those where users have very specific interests. Successful specialized SNS include YouTube, Google Plus, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine. SNS profiles are very popular across the globe. Facebook alone boasts over 2 billion users worldwide. The social networking service business model is based on online advertising, either through targeted advertising that utilizes an individual's personal information, search habits, location or other such data, or by selling the personal information to third-parties. The proliferation of mobile technologies, such as smartphones and tablets, has helped the growth of social SNS adoption and use.

Social Networking Service Characteristics

While social networking services may take many forms, they share several characteristics, such as all utilizing the internet. Other similar characteristics include:

  • User-generated content, such as photos, videos, and posts that inform other users about the activities and interests of the poster.
  • The ability to connect individuals from all over the world, though some platforms recommend that individuals know one another in real life before connecting online.
  • They are free. Their business model is based on breadth of membership, therefore charging for use would be counterproductive. Still, the possibility remains that if a network grew large and useful enough, charging a fee may be possible.
  • They connect people with common histories, such as school attendance, work colleagues, or people who share a common interest.
  • They may help forge and develop relationships between people who share a profession or business network.
  • They may be used to help individuals find information, products, services or resources that are relevant to them.

Social Networking Service Risks

Some users worry about the security of SNS profiles, as seen in the March 2018 revelations about how Cambridge Analytica illegally harvested information from roughly 50 million profiles of U.S. users to target for highly politicized content. In addition to potential leaks of personal information, including tax and personal identification information, SNS users who are not careful about their privacy settings find that strangers can track their movements or see questionable photos. This is especially a concern for job seekers whose potential employers might search for their profiles as part of the hiring process. Social networking service overuse may lead to depression and anxiety. Such services may also facilitate bullying and other risks to child safety.