Social relationships accelerated on Web

February 09, 2006|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

With the click of a mouse, any one of MySpace.com's 40 million users can learn John Christopher Gaumer's height, how many times he has been in love and what he prefers on his pizza.

Those are among the personal snippets he decided to include in his online profile. Visitors can also view a dozen pictures of Gaumer - including one of him flexing for the camera and another of him posing with his mother.

Three years ago social networking sites such as MySpace .com, Friendster.com and Facebook.com were unheard of. Now, an estimated 150,000 people join MySpace.com each day.

Many people, especially those in their teens and 20s, use the site as a social outlet - along with bars, clubs and coffeehouses - to meet friends or find out more about the guy they've been eyeing but haven't had the guts to approach.

The site is also big business. Launched about two years ago by Los Angeles-based Intermix Media Inc., it has rapidly grown into a major force on the Internet, attracting a large share of the Net's adverting dollars.

In July, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased Intermix for $580 million. At the time of the sale, News Corp. said MySpace .com was the fifth-ranked Web domain in terms of page views, according to a statement issued by the company.

Parry Aftab, executive director of wiredsafety.org, said her Web site receives 1,000 requests for help from people who say they are being harassed or stalked by others they met online.

Many people who turn to the Internet are lonely and often project themselves as something they are not - younger, richer, blonder, thinner - Aftab said. When two people finally meet, one sometimes feels he has been misled, Aftab said.

Another risk: People can learn much more by glimpsing a person's Internet profile than they could talking to him in a typical bar meeting, Aftab said.

"You also give out a lot of clues online about what it is you're looking for that makes it easier for the other person ... to come in and appear to be your soul mate," she said.

"In addition, a lot of people online are far more intimate faster than they are in real life."

By the first date, "someone's already in and knows how to make you feel good about yourself. They get in without you using the protective things that you normally do."

MySpace.com officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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