Practical Technology

for practical people.

How Social Networking Works


I’m on a social network; you’re on a social network, these days it seems we’re all on at least one social network–like Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc–if not two, three, or even more.

To be exact, the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s December 2008 tracking survey found that 35% of adult internet users now have a profile on an online social network site. If you’re a teenager, the numbers jump to 65%, but, it’s the young adults who really are behind the social networks. 75% of them belong to at least one social network. Since then, the social networks have only continued to grow at an explosive rate.

How do the social networks manage millions of users and hundreds of millions of updates? The answers lie in open-source software and thousands of servers. Let’s take a look behind the doors of a few top social networks — Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace — and see exactly how they pull their tricks off.

The first thing that jumps out at you is that they’re almost all based on open-source software. For example, the operating systems behind Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace are all Linux. Facebook uses F5 Big-IP, which is a family of Linux-based appliances that also perform network management.

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