Social Networks and Online Communities More Popular than Email

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by: Matt Rhodes

Two-thirds of the world’s entire online population have visited ‘Member communities’, including social networks, online communities and blogs, according to Nielsen’s Global Faces and Networked Places report. This places social networks and online communities as the fourth most popular category of online activities, ahead of personal email.

Other statistics also support the growth and importance of these sites, with time spent on site growing at three times the rate for overall internet use. Now one out of every eleven minutes spent online worldwide is spent on an online community or social network. In the UK, this figure is one out of every six minutes spent online.

There are many reasons for the shift from email to social networks and online communities. On a very structural level, many of these sites offer inboxes through which people can communicate either with their network of connections (in social networks) or with people who share similar interests or are working on a similar issue (in online communities). So people may be using multiple inboxes – each for different purposes and some of these actually social networks and online communities rather than traditional email providers.

On a behavioural level, however, this data reflects a shift in the way we use the internet to communicate. Email used to be the way that we communicated and, to some extent, it was using the internet to do a very traditional process (sending mail) using this new medium. But as our use of online has changed, we are now not just doing old things in new ways but doing completely new things. We can connect and stay connected with friends and contacts like never before; and we can find and share common experiences and discussions with people we might not even know. In this environment it is unsurprising that social networks and online communities have overtaken email. These sites allow us to communicate and share ideas with people based on connections (direct or indirect) we have with them or interests we share in common.

With email we need to know and remember addresses, it’s very much an old way of communicating using new means. With social networks we can communicate with people directly through our networks and with online communities we can communicate with people who are interested in the same things as us. They allow us to do new things, and do them in new way.

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