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Social Networks Overview – Current Trends and Research Challenges for EU

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The emergence and popularity of online social networks in recent years has changed the Internet ecosystem leading to a more collaborative environment. Nowadays, hundreds of millions of Internet users participate in social networks, form communities, produce and consume media content in revolutionary ways. There are very successful EU online Social Networks that account for more than 200 Mio registered users. They would benefit from working together with other relevant EU players to increase their own competitiveness and the competitiveness of the whole EU economy. A partnership among EU partners successfully active on the web (e.g. social networks, gaming, broadcasters, ICT users, incumbent ICT industry and academia) would certainly contribute to increase the competitiveness of EU industry on the web. The partnership would design measures (research, skills, regulatory, access to capital, etc.) to overcome the bottlenecks in order to increase the competitiveness of EU industry on the web.

This paper focuses on the research and technological measures to be adopted. It investigates online social networks as an emerging multidisciplinary research fi eld that bridges social science and multimedia computing. It reflects the consolidated opinion of the members of the NextMEDIA project and the Future Media Networks (FMN) cluster with the collaboration with well known experts, under the guidance of the Networked Media Systems Unit of the Information Society and Media Directorate General of the European Commission.

The challenges suggest that significant further research is required in the following areas:

  • Social graph analysis
  • Social media search and management
  • Exploiting social graphs
    • for predicting traffic demands and dimensioning media applications
    • for personalising search and recommending content
  • Identity algorithms
  • Mobile social networks
  • Social ranking and opinion sites
  • Business and social networking
  • Architectures for open and federated social network platforms

The aforementioned fields of research challenges are only few of the dozens of research challenges that the research community faces towards the quest for a ubiquitous, intuitive and secure social web.

Social Networks have undergone a dramatic growth in recent years. Such networks provide an extremely suitable space to instantly share multimedia information between individuals and their neighbours in the social graph. Social networks provide a powerful reflection of the structure and dynamics of the society of the 21st century and the interaction of the Internet generation with both technology and other people. Indeed, the dramatic growth of social multimedia and user generated content is revolutionising all phases of the content value chain including production, processing, distribution and consumption. It also originated and brought to the multimedia sector a new underestimated and now critical aspect of science and technology: social interaction and networking. The importance of this new rapidly evolving research field is clearly evidenced by the many associated emerging technologies and applications including online content sharing services and communities, multimedia communication over the Internet, social multimedia search, interactive services and entertainment, health care and security applications. It has generated a new research area called social multimedia computing, in which well established computing and multimedia networking technologies are brought together with emerging social media research.

Social Networking Internet services are changing the way we communicate with others, entertain and actually live. Social Networking is one of the primary reasons that many people have become avid Internet users; people who until the emergence of social networks could not find interests in the web. This is a very robust indicator of what is really happening online. The Web 2.0 era passed leaving behind great strength to the end-users. Nowadays, users (also known as prosumers), both produce and consume significant quantities of multimedia content. Moreover, this behaviour when combined with Social Networking (i.e. communication between users through online communities) has formed a new Internet era where multimedia content sharing through Social Networking Sites (SNSs) is an everyday practice. More than 200 SNSs of worldwide impact are known today and this number is growing quickly. Many of the existing top web sites are either pure SNSs or offer some social networking capabilities.

Except for the well known “first tier” social networks with hundreds of millions of users that span in the entire world, there are also many smaller social networking sites that are equally as popular within the more limited geographical scope of their membership, within a city, country or continent, for example. There are also many vertically oriented communities that gather users around a specific topic and thus, they have many dedicated members.

Facebook is ranked as one of the most visited sites in the world, with over than 500 million subscribed users to date. Moreover, Friendster is popular in Asia, Orkut in Brazil and Vkon-takte.ru in Russia. On top of that, there are dozens of other purely social networks with vibrant communities, such as Vznet (~17 Mio users), Xing (8 Mio users), Badoo (>70 Mio users), Netlog (> 70 Mio users), Tuenti (8 Mio users), Barrabes, Hyves (> 10 Mio users), Nasza Klasa (> 11 Mio users), LunarStorm (> 1.2 Mio users), Zoo (~1 Mio users), Sapo, Daily-Motion, VBOX7, iwiw and so on. There are also many vertically oriented communities that gather users around a specific topic, such as Last.fm for music or Goodreads for books. Finally, many mobile social networks appear to fi ll the gap and detach social networks from desktops. Some of them are aka-aki, itsmy, brightkite and mobiluck, to name a few.

Not all social networks are oriented to non-professional users. LinkedIn with over 80 Mio users or Viadeo with  Mio and Xing are mostly oriented in establishing professional connections between their users and initiate potential business collaborations.

The rapid growth in popularity of social networks has enabled large numbers of users to communicate, create and share content, give and receive recommendations, and, at the same time, it opened new challenging problems. Th e unbounded growth of content and users pushes the Internet technologies to its limits and demands for new solutions. SNSs have the audience to claim their place in the primetime if they solve the challenges they face. Twitter’s30 “fail whale” (twitter’s downtime icon) became a social media brand thanks to the frequent twitter’s outages when (and not only) worldwide events take place. Facebook gets severe criticism due to privacy concerns. Such challenges are present in all other SNSs to a greater or lesser extent.

Considerable amount of effort has already been devoted worldwide for problems such as content management in large scale collections, context awareness, multimedia search and retrieval, social graph modelling – analysis and mining, etc.

© Euopean Union

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