Fast Company's blog has an excerpt of a speech from Jonathan Abrams, CEO of Friendster, one of the more "name brand" social networking companies, that describes very well what social networking is.
From the speech, and, no, the paragraphs are not as presented in the speech, rather just paragraphs I selected as important (read the full excerpt at Fast Company):
"The story of Friendster is that my girlfriend dumped me and I created the Web site to get laid. That's a good story, and I've seen it printed in various places. It helps for getting consumer press, but the unfortunate reality is that it's more boring than that. Running an Internet company with a bunch of dudes and spending your time in front of a computer isn't the best way to have a rich social life.
Because I've been using this stuff so long in my career, I didn't really want to start dating online. Match.com started in 1995, but in 2002 it really hit an inflection point. I didn't find those services at all. I found the idea of chatting with random, anonymous strangers really creepy. I'm also a big networker professionally, and I noticed that a friend had a lot of female friends he was hanging out with, and he wasn't sleeping with them, but he would hook up with their friends. I'm sure you know people like that.
What if there was a way to meet people online through your friends? This would be better for dating, but it would also be better for things that weren't dating. So I started thinking about a dating site that wasn't about dating. Buddy lists where you know everybody and online discussions where things are totally open have been basically how people interact. That's not how we interact in the real world. I wanted to build something in the middle.
A lot of people want to create a viral service. Friendster goes beyond this viral marketing that people talk about. It's something I call viral nagging. People get peer pressure from their friends to sign up, improve their profile, and change their photo. That's more powerful than anything I could do. Instead of a site like Match.com where you build a site and hope your friends find you, you build your site with them.
What is the real vision of Friendster? The idea is to experience the Internet, but to experience it with your friends. We are trying to improve on what people do on the Internet realizing that we are connected. In 2004, you'll see more applications added to the platform. There are some interesting implications to that. I'll meet someone at a party, and the next day I can see what they really look like -- or someone will send me a Friendster message. A universal yearbook is pretty interesting. Once upon a time people had to make plans. Now we have cell phones and we can call at the last minute. With Friendster, you can contact people without really knowing their contact information."