There are many ways in which the Internet has assisted the expat community but perhaps one of the more modern day tools available is the array of networking websites which allow you to keep in touch with colleagues, friends and family members who may be thousands of miles away. We thought it would be interesting to take a look at the most popular social networking websites and exactly what they have to offer.
There will be names mentioned below which are no surprise to social network enthusiasts but there are also others which are up-and-coming and could grab more headlines in the future.
It will come as no surprise that to learn that Facebook is by far and away the most popular social networking website available today. Despite the fact that it was only launched in February 2004 it has accumulated over 900 million users and was recently floated on the American stock market for in excess of $100 billion. But why is this site so popular and why do expats around the world continue to sign up on a regular basis?
There are many areas of Facebook which attract the attention of different expats around the world and indeed different social users. Whether it is the ability to post comments, post pictures, post questions or indeed use the vast array of Facebook application now available there is certainly something for everybody. In many ways Facebook is seen as an online diary which allows you to track your everyday thoughts, everyday movements and everyday activities. There is a suggestion that some Facebook users give away too much information on their accounts and potential leave themselves open to the criminal fraternity who are never far away.
However, when you bear in mind that Facebook is one of the most popular websites on the Internet and there are around 2.5 million users in Norway alone it is no surprise to learn it has become a very popular tool. Perhaps the major success associated with Facebook is its ability to move with the times, give account holders what they want and ultimately remain one step ahead of the competition. Facebook was not the first social networking website to hit the Internet although it is by far and away the most popular although Google plus is certainly making some inroads in the sector. It will be interesting to see whether the company is able to maintain this lead over the competition although its multi-billion-dollar war chest means the odds are stacked in favour of Facebook.
Google plus (20%)
Google plus is relatively new having just been launched as a “field test” in June 2011 before having to be suspended because of excessive demand. It was then re-released in September 2011 and has literally gone from strength to strength although some believe that Google is abusing its position as the leading search engine provider across the globe. Whether or not this is a valid argument is open to debate but the fact is that Google plus is currently signing up in excess of 600,000 new users each and every day and is on target for a 400 million membership list by the end of 2012. But what exactly does Google plus how to offer?
In many ways Google plus brings together a vast array of services currently offered by Google which include Google profiles, circles, hangouts and sparks to name but a few. The service is very much based upon the same principles as Facebook, i.e. giving users the ability to remain in contact with friends around the globe, and this is perhaps one of the only areas of the Internet where Google has been forced to follow rather than lead the way. It is also worth noting that Google plus was not the company’s first foray into the social networking industry and indeed a number of previous projects failed miserably and were effectively ignored in the history of Google. However, this does show that the social networking industry is very competitive, can change on a sixpence and when even the likes of Google are forced to follow rather than lead, we really do have a challenge on our hands.
It will be interesting to see how Google managers to develop its online social networking services in the months and years to come because it is making great progress at this moment in time although unlikely to challenge Facebook in the short to medium term. Facebook was initially valued at in excess of $100 billion on flotation on the US stock market although the shares have since fallen back.
The interesting thing about Twitter is the fact that the vast majority of people who use the Internet will have heard of this service at some time although many automatically assume it is aimed at the business arena. The truth is that Twitter was initially seen as a business social service although it is now used just as much for social networking as for business operations. However, it is very different from Facebook, it is very different from Google plus but it continues to grow in popularity and indeed boasts in excess of 140 million active users.
The main difference between Twitter and the likes of Facebook etc is the fact that Twitter is built around short sharp messages rather than long-winded comments and suggestions. This allows a flurry of “tweets” to be launched onto the Internet and indeed you are able to follow or be followed by fellow Twitter members. It is very easy to link accounts with friends, family members and acquaintances around the world and indeed there are messaging services available so that you can private mail anybody on your list.
There are very few companies in the world who do not have access to a Twitter account and indeed in many ways this was the initial success of the company. However, many celebrities soon began to appreciate the potential exposure via Twitter and the social arena began to expand. Twitter is probably for people who prefer to send short sharp messages rather than long-winded stories.
MSN live (10%)
MSN live is number four in the list of most popular social networking websites in Norway, as used by expats, but overall it has proved to be a very disappointing service. Those who follow Microsoft very closely will be well aware that the MSN live social networking operation has been rebranded on numerous occasions with the only major success to date being Windows live, otherwise known as Hotmail.
It is difficult to understand why Microsoft has been so late to the party which is social networking when you bear in mind the massive amounts of funding company has had at its disposal over the years. It has fallen behind the times with regards to search engine popularity and even a joint venture with Yahoo failed to ignite this particular service. When you bear in mind that Facebook is now valued at in excess of $100 billion and the market capitalisation of Microsoft is well behind that of Google it is difficult to see how the company can make a big dent in the social networking arena.
Windows live and Hotmail allow you to talk interactively with people on your contact list and you can transfer documents and also use web cams. There is no doubt that this is a very interesting and a very useful service but the truth is that it does have its limitations. People now expect more from their social networking operations and indeed they have now moved on to the likes of Facebook, Google plus, Twitter, etc. It is difficult to see how Microsoft will be able to attract significant new users in the future unless it undergoes a massive investment in this arena – which would be a major risk.
While LinkedIn is number five in the list of most popular social networking website in Norway it is a very interesting social networking service which has developed over the years. Initially, and it retains this format to the current day, it was targeted at the professional arena allowing people to talk to others with similar interests, discuss job opportunities and talk to experts in particular fields. It is believed that the service has in excess of 150 million registered users across 200 countries which is very impressive for a service which was initially targeted at a fairly niche market.
The only potential fly in ointment at this point in time was the recent theft of 6.4 million user passwords by a Russian hacking group which then went on to publish these on a Russian forum. This has obviously caused major concern amongst LinkedIn users and does illustrate the fact that very private and very confidential information is never 100% safe on the Internet. It would be unfair to suggest that LinkedIn has been the only social networking website to be hacked over the years but it is perhaps one which has suffered more than others because it does hold confidential business information on individual members.
However, when you step to one side and ignore the recent password theft we can then begin to see the massive value which it offers to expat users. Can you imagine the opportunity to speak to others in your forthcoming homeland about job opportunities, local practices and other vital issues? Well, LinkedIn does offer you the chance to speak to others overseas who have perhaps information and experience which they can share with you to make your move that much easier. For many expats, LinkedIn is worth its weight in gold despite the recent negative press comment.
Time and time again we have seen many people suggesting that the days of busy forums have long gone and the likes of Facebook, Google plus, etc will rule the day. However, it is worth reminding those attempting to kill off forums that a simple search on Google will show that there are millions of different forms on the Internet covering every general subject, niche market and answering every question you could ever ask.
The forum industry has been particularly useful to many expats because it allows users to ask questions of fellow members to try and assist with their move to a new homeland. When you also take into account the hundreds of thousands of different questions asked on various expat forums, which are all indexed on the search engines, in many cases you will find the answer to your question before you have even asked it. If you take a step back and think of forums as information exchanges, this will perhaps give you a better understanding of what forums have to offer with particular emphasis upon the expat community.
Indeed the expat forum has attracted the attention of a significant number of members over the years and many of the questions asked months or even years ago are still relevant today. Forums also offer the ability to ask questions on more up-to-date matters which may be changing on a regular basis such as visas, etc. It is difficult to put into a short sentence the value of forums for expats because they are still evolving, they are still changing and despite the fact that Facebook, Google plus, etc have all of the fancy applications, the forum industry does still move with the times.
Despite the fact that the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MSN live, forums and Google plus grab the vast majority of media exposure it is worth remembering that Facebook in particular was not the first major social networking site to emerge on the Internet. Those who follow this particular sector may be aware of the likes of MySpace and Bebo which were in many ways the Facebook of the day and while they are still in existence they are but shadows of their former selves.
This also reflects the fact that the social networking arena does move and change on a regular basis and if companies such as Facebook, Google plus, etc were to take their eye off the ball for some amount of time then their position in the pecking order could be in danger. However, when you bear in mind that Facebook is now worth in excess of $100 billion it is difficult to see how the company could be brought back down to work by a competitor. Indeed recently Facebook agreed to pay a billion-dollar pricetag for a company which had the potential to make inroads into a particular area of Facebook’s operations – but that threat has now gone.
The very fact that social networking websites are an integral part of many people’s daily activity, and indeed many people place private and confidential information on their accounts, has led to some issues with crime. It is vital that you are aware of the potential issues which include: –
As we touched on above, far too many people place very private and very confidential information in the public domain via their social networking accounts. Can you imagine if you were a local thief and you were monitoring the movements of various Facebook members in your area? How many people write when they are away for the day, going away on holiday or out of the house for a prolonged period of time? If you were part of the criminal fraternity this would be easy pickings to the detriment of the individual concerned. Law enforcement agencies have been reiterating this point for some time now but it is proving very difficult to push through.
Identity theft has become one of the largest growth areas of the criminal fraternity with many people obtaining private and confidential information from not only public records but also social networking accounts. The accumulation of such information can in many cases allow criminals to apply for bank loans, credit cards, etc in the names of individuals concerned leaving them with major bills to pay. The less information you make public the less chance of becoming a victim of ID theft because in reality it could happen to you.
It seems each and every day that we pick up a newspaper there is a report about fake profiles being used by the criminal fraternity across an array of social networking websites. From Facebook to Twitter, from Google plus to LinkedIn there have been instances of fake profiles being used to gain access to the trust of certain individuals. In reality we will never know 100% whether we are talking to the right person, unless we physically speak to them and see them, but there are safety measures you can put in place to ensure there is as little risk to you as possible.
There is no doubt that the expat community has embraced the social networking boom of recent years and it is now a very important tool for many expats. It is not only the ability to remain in contact with your friends and family, who may be thousands of miles away, but also the chance to integrate with people of similar interests and indeed checkout the employment market of your chosen new homeland which is helpful. There are so many opportunities to ease the pressure of a move overseas and while these have been welcomed across-the-board there is a need to remain guarded about the type and the depth of information you give out to individuals.
As we have mentioned above, the Internet and social networking websites have opened up a whole new can of worms for the criminal fraternity allowing them access to information which would not normally be available.