In the year 2012 life without internet is nearly impossible. We shop online, do online banking or search for a new flat with the help of the internet. In the last years communication started to liven up in the World Wide Web and the rise of social networks has begun. But what does it mean, ‘social network’?
‘We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.’
For today’s people, especially for young people, the biggest part of communication and interaction takes place in social networks like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace. Business networks like Xing and LinkedIn are on the rise as well. Friendships are made, contents, activities and preferences are shared. Beside individuals, also companies are developing social network communities to increase their popularity and to persuade new consumers with online advertisement and marketing.
Communication through the online channel is convenient, comfortable and fast … But isn´t there a loss of social life, like we knew (or not knew) it before the triumphal match of social networks?
What do different countries, different people or cultures, like we and our friends from France, think about social networks? Is the advertisement of companies in social networks seen as new, positive and interesting or do people perceive it as rather negative and annoying? How will the social network development evolve in the future? What tendencies and trends can be expected?
[Nina Waschke, University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg]
We are surrounded by social networks starting from the moment we are born. The first social network we are facing is our family which normally accompanies us our whole life, grows from time to time, and gives us protection and support. In the course of a lifetime there are a lot more social networks added to our surrounding, beginning with the kindergarten, continuing with school and friends, followed by a job and colleagues.
However, all these networks have something in common: either we’re taking part in them actively or we’re participating passively while observing things from the ‘outside’.
Those ‘real-life-social-networks’, as I would like to call them, are not much different to online social networks. It doesn’t matter whether we’re looking for former class mates, colleagues or temporary partners, or if we want to exchange music, films and books, or just try to make friends quickly after moving to another city, social networks are usually the first tool that is utilized in order to reach the objective. The degree of participation defines our place in these networks!
The best known and most popular social networks in Germany are: Facebook, Xing, Google+, Stayfriends, Wer-kennt-wen, Twitter, VZ-Netzwerke (MeinVZ, SchuelerVZ, StudiVZ), Linkedln, Tumblr, Odnoklassniki.
The history of Facebook has begun in the year of 2004; the spread and continuous development are extraordinary. From time to time Mark Zuckerberg, ‘one of five co-founders of the social networking site Facebook’, announces the reach of new numbers of Facebook users. In the year of 2008 (August) 100 million users were on Facebook while in July 2010 already 500 million people were using the platform and in October 2012 ‘more than one billion people using Facebook actively each month’. 
Most of the social networks offer features like a personal profile, a contact list, the possibility to receive and send messages to other users (alone or in groups), games etc.
Nowadays social networks are a valid method to communicate with whoever we want; we are always up-to-date regarding our friends’ life and anything else that is happening in the world. 
However, social networks have to face a barrage of criticism as well: poor data privacy, the exchange of dubious photos and cyber-mobbing.
Another important point is the fact of being ‘Connected, but alone?’ analyzed by Sherry Turkle, who is a ‘Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’. 
According to the numbers, published on the webpage http://www.checkfacebook.com/ , there’s only a small difference between German (25,189,320 users) and French (25,286,560 users) Facebook users. Therefore, one could assume that Facebook, or social networks in general, are comparably weighted in the two societies.
[Vanessa Lichter, University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhine-Sieg]
Facebook, Twitter , LinkedIn… We can not speak of a decline of the French passion towards social networks. Three users of four are placed on at least one of them.
The last annual barometer of social networks “Mediametrie” reported a success of social networks. In France, say that they are part of our daily lives is close to an euphemism, in one year, it is 1.6 million more people who have taken the plunge. The numbers do not stop here, 99% of Internet users know at least one social network and 77% are enrolled.
At the great game of popularity, twitter is taking the lead with two users of three know the twittosphere and 15% are enrolled. There is another who gleans every day a little more popularity , Google + is experienced by 7% of Internet users and also has 15% of registrants, as well as Twitter.
In France, two internet users of three use the social networks every day or almost, and not only at home but also at work or in public transport (tablets, smartphones). Indeed, the social networks are so many and some dedicated to the professional sphere. They show a nice progression and in this case, LinkedIn is the most requested.
In one year, things have changed, the social networks are no longer for a category of the population. The time is long past when only “young people” wandered on Facebook, now all age groups are represented.
Five years ago, we spoke about a fad phenomenon, finally they proliferate and resist more and more. Like a bad virus some say.
[Jérémy Ducam, Universitè Paris Sud, Orsay]
In conclusion, we tried to show the importance and the influence of social networks in Germany in comparison to France.
In these two countries, social networks are omnipresent in our everyday life. For all that, in a general way, social networks are less used in Germany and France (respectively 55 and 50%) than other countries in Europe like Italy, Suede or Hungary (60 to 70 %). In Germany as in France, the use of social networks to communicate with their friends, family and professional contacts becomes widespread more and more, regardless of social origins and age. Indeed, the users are getting younger but older as well; there’s really no discrepancy in age and you cannot generalize it! The youths use the social networks to share photos and comment on their lives, and the older ones use it to recover childhood friends or ancient colleagues.
On the other hand, we notice an important difference between France and Germany about the nature of social network which are used. French people privilege social networks for leisure activities (Facebook, Twitter…) whereas German people are more on professional social networks. In the same way, among professional social networks, German people prefer national networks like Xing while French people prefer to use international networks like LinkedIn.
But the problems with social networks are the same on both sides of Rhine: protection of privacy life is in the center of the debates, and laws are born trying to protect it. But it’s also a freedom of expression which is favored through these phenomenons which are called “social networks”.
The two societies also have a similar point of view about social networks, their advantages, their limits and inconvenience.
[Mathilde Pailhe-Belair, Universitè Paris Sud, Orsay]
- Are you using social networks? If yes, which ones? If no, why not?
- In your opinion: What are the advantages and disadvantages of social networks?
- Future trend: Do you think the number and importance of social networks will rise or will there be a decline?
 D. Boyd; N. Ellison (2007) Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.