You could say that online social networking is one of the most important foundations for the Web as it exists today. For many, social networking sites like Facebook have become their main portal to the Web. Friends share links to news stories, funny videos, personal photos and more. Niche social networks like LinkedIn, a site for professionals, also experienced growth throughout 2009.
Then there's Twitter, the Web service that allows you to send 140-character updates to a network of followers. Twitter isn't the easiest concept to explain to the uninitiated. But celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Shaquille O'Neal and Ashton Kutcher brought more attention to the service.
Twitter also made headlines by sharing headlines. Some of the biggest news stories of 2009 spread through Twitter like wildfire, beating news agencies to the punch by hours. Michael Jackson's death, Tiger Woods' SUV incident and balloon boy were three stories that had people buzzing on Twitter well before they showed up on any major news outlets.
Twitter and Facebook became important during the fallout following the Iranian elections. Protestors used the sites to organize meetings and share information as well as to inform the rest of the world about what was going on within Iran. It's clear that these sites have grown well beyond their original elevator pitch.
Will these trends of 2009 carry over and become even more important in 2010? We're not in the business of looking into the future at HowStuffWorks.com, but the office Magic 8-Ball suggests that it's a safe bet.
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