The Web has become social. Is today your birthday? Your family and friends are posting best wishes right now on Facebook. Are you planning to go out for dinner? You are likely checking user reviews of restaurants on a website such as Yelp. Did you read that news article about the latest political scandal? If you did, you may have discussed it with other readers in the comment section of the online news site. The Web has always been a great place to find information, but increasingly people are also using it for social interaction.
With this shift has come a new class of web applications focused on social interactions like those described above. People are sharing and commenting on photos and videos using sites such as Flickr and YouTube. They are updating their "followers" on Twitter about their latest activities. They are using social networking applications such as Facebook to reconnect with old friends, share information about their lives with friends and family, or find people with common interests.
The rich interactions available on these social sites have raised the expectations of users for web-based applications. It is not enough to search for and view interesting content. People want to interact with it, comment on it, and discuss it with others. Incorporating social features into a website leads to users spending more time on the site.
The growth in usage of social functionality and social networking in particular, is not limited to consumer websites. Many companies are using social networking software on their corporate networks for internal collaboration. Employees can use these tools to find expertise that exists within the organization and form groups that promote sharing information across organizational boundaries. In education, social networking applications are used to help students actively collaborate on projects. Students can work together, share ideas, and discuss each other's work throughout the learning process.