Get with it, granddad! We're talking MySpace, Bebo and, especially, Facebook and Twitter here. These web 2.0 phenomena have made some of the web 1.0 fantasies come true. You know: individuals in control, pushing their own messages out into the world, not letting a central authority or editor restrict what they say. Great fun - until you have to try to manage this. Ask the new head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, whose wife appears to have 'over-shared' some family information on her Facebook site. If they weren't married, he'd have had to kill her.
Where did it come from? Social networking emerged from university campuses, where students with time on their hands rejected the sensible option of attending lectures to experiment with new ideas. Some of them are now hugely rich as a result of this unwise choice. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter pass the authenticity test: they seem to meet a genuine need, and allow people to do more of what they really want to do. E-mail is just so 20th-century by comparison. If you want to understand Generation Y, take a look at its Facebook sites and Tweets. This is free market research, after all.
Where is it going? Onwards and upwards. When king of pop Michael Jackson died a few weeks ago, the world went Twitter-crazy. Some claim (over-excitedly, probably) that the internet slowed almost to a standstill as a result. You may not see the point of opining in 140 characters (or fewer) to a random world audience. Others do. We're all media companies now. We all have a personal brand. We all have messages to disseminate. That's the early 21st-century fact revealed by online social networking. Managing now and in the future is going to mean getting a grip on these networks, whether you like it or not.
Fad quotient (out of 10): Seven and rising.