A growing number of people around the world are participating in online social media platforms, where floods of information are eroding barriers once imposed by national borders, religious convictions and governmental pressures. Nearly 4 out of 5 active Internet users visit online social networks and blogs, according to Nielsen (2011a). In business transactions, purchase decisions today rely more on consumer ratings and reviews than company sales pitches (Nielsen, 2011b).
People are collaborating online about issues ranging from spending a dollar to the enforcement of policies. While sharing opinions in virtual venues, they’re rewriting definitions for socially acceptable beliefs, principles and activities. Mankind is distilling a kaleidoscope of data, discarding some elements, while debating and merging others. Controversial topics in online communities often explore concepts relevant to all of humanity, thereby programming minds with instructions formulated from a collective conscious. Social media is a participatory technology that’s rapidly consuming data, mixing ideas and homogenizing cultures. The amount of digital information accessible to online communities is expected to reach 35 trillion gigabytes by 2020, as digital convergence sweeps across all major forms of media, capturing voice, television, radio and print (Rosenberger 2010). The social spheres are acquiring, creating, updating and reorganizing an astonishing amount of data. Networked activities are filling databases with documents ranging from two-byte text files to multi-gigabyte multimedia presentations, as well as explanations of personal associations, group sentiments and historical perspectives.
Facebook, the social-networking website consuming most of America’s online time (Nielsen 2011a), accounts for more than 30 percent of the Internet’s upstream peak period traffic in North America — the area’s largest share of bandwidth consumption (Sandvine 2011). Facebook is hosting more than 800 million users who, on average, upload more than 250 million photos per day (2011). Twitter’s more than 100 million users post more than 200 million Tweets per day (2011); YouTube users upload 48 hours of video every minute and view 3 billion hours of video every month (2011); LinkedIn’s business-centric network connects more than 135 million professionals and two million companies around the world (2011). These domains and other participatory websites are collecting a seemingly endless source of research possibilities for consumer marketers, social scientists and other data miners. Frequent user influxes are sustaining a consistent stream of international interactions, which are forming the foundation of culture, online.
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