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The Social Network – A Definition

Social networking has existed, in some form or another, since the dawn of civilization. The earliest men networked and bonded into tribes to their mutual benefit and the security it offered them. As civilization developed and became more complex, so did the complexity of these networks and soon there were specialized fraternities, guilds and associations of people with common interests and aims. This evolved until, by the late 20th century, networking for social and business reasons became an established part of life.

The definition of social networking and the way it is done took on a new shape with the advent of the internet. Today we think of social networking as a positive and necessary activity needed to develop and expand our lives, both personally and on a business level. The internet meant that we did not have to be able to physically meet a person to establish contact with them or to continue the relationship – everything can be done online and relationships can develop and flourish there. Today a person sitting at home with his computer can meet and establish a longer term link with almost anyone, anywhere.

This has caused the evolution of the theory of “6 Degrees of Separation.” The theory says that with an almost unlimited number of people who can be contacted, just contacting one person who can put you in touch with another should be able to lead you to anyone, anywhere within six stages. If this is accepted, the definition of social networks changes from limited circles of like minded people to theoretically being able to contact anyone in the world. While this maybe theoretically possible, for most people the definition and application of social networking is more limited.

Most people use social networks to link to other people with whom they can have a beneficial relationship – either personal or commercial. Besides establishing contacts online, a person who joins a social network usually invites his friends to join. They in turn invite their friends to join and the chain, as it carries on, creates a growing group of interlinked people whose relationship, on a one to one level or on a larger plane, will grow to their mutual benefit. So by common usage, the definition of a social network, as it exists today, is that of way to establish links to others online – those whom you could not have established a relationship with otherwise.

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