Web networking hardly limited to one site

Eric Benderoff [Chicago Tribune]

CHICAGO -- Like many Web users of a certain age, Ralph Dahm doesn't have a profile page at or participate in the gossipy give-and-take at

"That's more for the kids," said the 55-year-old job recruiter for technology companies. But that doesn't make Dahm a reluctant participant in the social networking trend exploding across the Internet.

Indeed, he has more than 5,200 contacts through, a social tool for business acquaintances that he actively maintains each day. And, unlike the kids who collect thousands of friends on MySpace in an effort to appear popular, Dahm can tell you a little bit about each of his contacts.

"No. 4,972 is a guy at Volkswagen Credit," Dahm said. "I first contacted that person on July 25. I may not have spoken with him but I keep up to date with what he's doing."

The trend tabbed "social networking" is vastly broader than MySpace, and its components are quickly being incorporated into hundreds if not thousands of Web sites, ranging from autos to music and even shopping. The sites are defined by content -- photos, product reviews and the occasional rant -- that users contribute, helping to build a sense of community and participation.

Social networking represents an evolution of the Web, from a static place where people searched for news and information into more of a gigantic coffeehouse, where people gather to share their opinions and swap photos, stories and videos. It's a shift toward participation, a two-way Web.

The evolution exploded onto public consciousness after News Corp. paid $650 million for MySpace last year. Now, Yahoo is reportedly considering a purchase of, a smaller MySpace rival, for about $1 billion.

That has many people wondering if such a high price for a site with less than 15 million unique visitors in August is worthwhile considering the very real possibility that another trendy site is lurking in the background.

"MySpace is worth a lot because it's the leader in the field. They have a lot of community and a lot of users," said J.B. Pritzker, a partner with New World Ventures, an Evanston, Ill., venture capital firm. "But if the question is, is the technology replicable, the answer is yes.

"On a financial basis, in my book, you can't possibly justify $1 billion for Facebook," he said.

The tools that have made MySpace and Facebook so popular are rampant across the Web.

At, for instance, auto enthusiasts share photos of cars, motorcycles and their motor-loving credentials in what site operators call an online garage. At, users post their thoughts on Chicago-area health clubs, restaurants, spas and nightclubs, among other things. And at, users make travel plans based on reviews from customers who stayed at a city's top hotels and ate in their restaurants.

"Trip Advisor is starting to gain some acceptance," said Bill Tancer, general manager of global research for Hitwise, a Web tracking firm. "It now matters more to major hotel chains how many bubbles or whatever it gets on Trip Advisor than stars from AAA ratings."

George Luhowy, a publisher of computer-related information in Boston, tracks about 425 Web sites that use some sort of social networking aspect. "That's probably doubled in the last three months," he said, "and there are probably less than 50 or so in our pipeline" that the company will soon add to a database it sells to institutions that monitor Web trends.

Yet despite the growth of sites that rely on user-generated content, none have the audience of MySpace or Facebook.

In August, MySpace had 55.7 million unique visitors, nearly four times the size of the 14.7 million Facebook visitors, according to figures from ComScore Media Matrix. Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Live Spaces follows with 9.7 million users, has 8 million and, a photo site Yahoo bought last year for an undisclosed amount, has 5.5 million users.

Analyst Tim Boyd thinks Yahoo is willing to spend $1 billion for Facebook -- a site originally for university and high school students but now open to anyone -- because it will help the company better compete for advertising dollars.

"It makes economic sense for Yahoo," said Boyd, who follows Yahoo for Caris & Co. "You know what kind of users you will have. They intrinsically share more information about themselves than typical Yahoo users," making it easier to target ads to this market.

"That is the overall trend in advertising," Boyd said. "Money is getting more targeted and smarter. It's no longer about how wide the reach is, but shifting more toward return on investment. I think they need Facebook, they need to offer something really targeted."

Pritzker was more direct: "It speaks to the need of Yahoo to prove to the market that it can compete with other large players in every segment. That's how you get this outsized number" of $1 billion.

Whether or not that deal comes to fruition, few people doubt social networking is going away.

"At its core, a mass medium that brings people together to share their own content is not a flash in the pan," said Jack Flanagan, executive vice president with Comscore Networks.

Dahm, the national accounts manager for UPP Business Systems in Downers Grove, Ill., finds social networking an extremely valuable business tool.

"I want to know where everyone is," he said. "It's applying networking tools onto the Internet. It's a much more efficient use of technology."

Jessica Nelson, 31, a Chicago consultant, agrees. A MySpace user for two years, she uses the site to build her business.

"Social networking and business go hand-in-hand these days," she said. "I do private event management and so many people have found me through MySpace."

On the other hand, she wonders if MySpace's usefulness has run its course. "It's phenomenal and has revolutionized the Internet, but it's just getting too big and it has started to lose its added value for me."

Nelson isn't looking for an alternative yet, but her concern mirrors what many people believe: There's another MySpace or Facebook out there that will emerge soon enough.

Hitwise's Tancer calls it the "Internet laws of gravity," where a site goes from basically zero to dominance in a relatively short period of time.

He cited as an example. When a skit from Saturday Night Live called "Lazy Sunday" hit YouTube shortly after it aired on NBC in December, the relatively unknown video site soared in popularity and quickly surpassed Yahoo video as the Web's most popular domain for short clips.

"If someone is going to spend that amount of money ($1 billion for Facebook), they have to be asking themselves if someone is out there that is going to blindside them," Tancer said.

He said it is hard to tell what that next site could be, but he called the social networking trend "very real. There's potential applications for this in every space."

Flanagan concurred that there isn't a site on Comscore's radar that is really "jumping out yet" to threaten the strength of MySpace or Facebook. But with so many sites chasing social networking, passing up $1 billion for a site that launched in February 2004 seems risky.

"I'd take the money in a second," Flanagan said


© 2006, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.