In the early 90’s two computer programmers, Tim Berners-Lee from England and Robert Cailliau from Belgium (Berners-Lee & Cailliau, 1990) created the World Wide Web (WWW). The initial idea of the World Wide Web was to make it easier to transfer information between employees. In 1993 the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the CERN, announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone (CERN, 2003). From that moment the use of the World Wide Web started to grow. In the coming years more and more people started to find their way on the World Wide Web and more and more information got available. After 2001 the World Wide Web entered a new phase, also known as Web 2.0. O’Reilly (2006) describes the Web 2.0 as “the business revolution in the computer industry, caused by the move to the internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform”.

The term Web 2.0 refers to a change in use of the World Wide Web. This change is known for the internet as an interactive platform in which creativity, communication and sharing secure information became more important. The picture below gives an impression of the meaning of Web 2.0.

The Web 2.0 applications have boosted the use of social network sites across the globe. Since 2001 a lot of social network sites, like MySpace, Facebook, Friendster and more, were founded.

Social network sites are widely used throughout the world. Lots of people are making use of social network sites or social network sites on a daily basis. They are defined as followed: “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” (boyd & Ellison 2008, p. 211). 

There is a wide array of different types of social network sites. Some make use of pre-existing social networks while others intend to bring people together based on common interests. A social network site is usually built up in the same manner; in most cases there is a profile page with on display a list of contacts of friends who make up the social network. On the profile page some basic characteristics of the person are given. Some social network sites give the option to hide this information, while others allow the information to be freely available to everyone.
Apart from the profile page there usually are pages to go and form groups around common interests. Also there is often the option to leave one a message. Social network sites might also have the option to leave blog messages and sometimes photographic and video material can be shared among the social network or with the whole web.
Part of the characteristics of social network sites is that you are able to view your own personal social networks. Not every user will use social network sites to make new contacts. They are more often used to communicate with people who are already part of the social network, instead of networking with new people, which is also possible (boyd & Ellison, 2008). Others use social network sites to get in contact with other people who share common political views, interests, activities or a common identity.  

Figure 1 shows the timeline of the birth of some of the major social network sites around the world. As displayed below, the social network site of our main interest, Hyves, is a relative newcomer to the web. 


Figure 1: Timeline birth of some of the major SNS (Source: boyd & Ellison, 2008)

Researchers have started to explore the possibilities social network sites have for building social capital among users. Resnick (2001, in Steinfeld & Ellison, 2008) suggests that new forms of social capital and relationship building will occur in social network sites because of the way that technologies, like search capabilities, stimulate online linkages with others. Bridging social capital might be increased by social network sites, because they enable users to create and maintain lager, diffuse networks of relationships (boyd, 2004 in Steinfeld & Ellison, 2008). Ellison et al. (2007) assessed levels of bridging and bonding social capital as well as ‘saved’ social capital, which refers to a persons ability to stay in contact with members of  a previously inhabited community. They found that intensive use of social network sites was a predictor of bridging social capital (Steinfeld & Ellison, 2008).

In the Netherlands social network sites are very popular; about 49 per cent of the population is member of a social network site. This is the largest percentage in the world. The Netherlands is followed by the United Arab Emirates (46 per cent), Canada (44 per cent) and the United States of America (40 per cent). The most popular social network sites in the Netherlands are Hyves, LinkedIn and MSN Spaces (de Telegraaf, 2008).
In the year 2003 social network sites became very popular in the USA. The Dutch entrepreneurs Raymond Spanjar and Floris Rost van Tonningen noticed the popularity of such sites in the USA and started a social network site for the Dutch market. Their intention was to create a website where people have the possibility to contact friends and relatives and also to meet new people. In October 2004 social network site Hyves, which is based on the English word ‘hive’, was launched on the World Wide Web (Rottenberg, 2008).

 

On the website of Hyves people have the possibility to become a member and create a personal profile for free. Once a profile is created, members can get in touch with other members and invite them to become a friend. They can share photos, videos, weblogs and post messages. Members can also look at the social networks of their friends and in that way get in contact with other people.

The statistics below (table 1) point out that Hyves is used by a large amount of people to make contact with others.

Percentage of Hyves users in the Netherlands

Age group

Users in %

13-

55,5

13 - 34

77,9

35 - 49

65,9

50+

29,3

Table 1: Percentage of Hyves users in the Netherlands (Source: STIR, 2008)

About 40 per cent of the inhabitants of the Netherlands have created a profile on Hyves. Especially in the age group from thirteen to thirty-four years Hyves is a popular medium of communication, as almost 80 per cent created a profile. In the age group 50+ the reach of Hyves is relatively low, this percentage is 30. An explanation for this could be that the latter is less familiar with the World Wide Web and find it difficult to use new technology. As Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (2008) point out, that especially among young people, the internet has become an integral part of their lives. Many of them grew up with computers and take the internet for granted.

In the past four years Hyves has grown rapidly and became the largest social network site in the Netherlands. At the moment the total amount of members is 7,5 million. Every month about seven million people visit Hyves. Together they count for 4,5 billion page views a month (STIR, 2008). This number tripled compared to the previous year (Hyped, 2008).

Statistics about Hyves Statistics about members
7,5 million members Average age: 27
6,5 million members are Dutch Male: 44%
4,5 billion page views a month Female: 56%
160 million page views a day Average number of friends: 85
2,7 million messages a day

Table 2: Statistics about Hyves and members (Source: STIR, 2008)

Social network site Hyves is still growing. This text and both tables show that Hyves is a popular medium of communication in the Netherlands and even though growth will smooth, continued growth is expected by the staff members. To realize this growth quality will be guaranteed and new technology is developed (Rottenberg, 2008).