Networking has been used for some time as a metaphor to describe the connections between people. Networking is done for business purposes as well as for social ends. Social networking services are a 21st century communications solution that encourage and facilitate social networking through computers and the Internet, as well as through mobile devices and their network connections. Being available through the web means that social networking sites are international, and even those started in a particular country may grow beyond the country’s borders. Examples of social networking services include MySpace®, Facebook®, Twitter®, Friendster®, LinkedIn®, XING®, and Orkut®.
Social network services are usually of little use unless one joins them. This is generally done either by responding to an invitation from someone who already has an account with the site, or by getting an account without any invitation, often accomplished by entering a username, email address, and password. On the site, one often has a profile page in which one can enter information about oneself in a variety of ways to communicate with others, such as posting one’s status, sending emails, instant messaging, or some form of sending direct private messages to other members.
After joining, the next step is usually to locate friends, and the service may offer to do this based on an address book. Alternatively, one can generally search for names in a dedicated search box and/or find one friend with many mutual friends and connect from there. Often one may also indicate one’s approbation of organizations, causes, and positions that have been given an identity on the site. This may be called “liking,” “favoriting,” “following” or something similar.
The possible content of posts on social networking services will vary by site. Twitter® famously allows a maximum of 140 characters, with extra characters being possible in some platforms for direct messages, but it is possible to include multiple links in a post, which may connect to an article, a blog, a photo, a movie, etc. On Facebook®, posts can include photos, video, or links, as well as text and if you send a message directly to someone — i.e., privately — you have those same options. If you post on someone’s "wall," you also have the choice of sending him or her a gift.
Sites generally have some settings for one’s account, and these include privacy settings. The controls given to users and changes made in the controls and their default settings on Facebook® were an item of heated debate in 2009–2010. In May, 2010, four United States senators requested that the Federal Trade Commission to examine the privacy policies at Facebook®, as well as set privacy guidelines for social networking services.