According to Facebook's own figures, it has over five hundred million active users, who spend over seven hundred billion minutes a month on Facebook.

Really big numbers that to some extent hide the real question, which is why so many people join and use Facebook and other social networks - what are the benefits and what are the downsides?

Do you remember Friends Reunited? - still going but possibly the first of the social connection sites that was a bit of a killer app for the internet.

It really gave people a sense and purpose of connecting to people in their own lives that they wouldn't be able to otherwise, of reconnecting to their past, not only in terms of people but places like school and old work places. It allowed them to re-establish a link with themselves via other people.

Other sites came forward that were similarly huge, notably Second Life and My space. Both these sites still active, but fair to say now eclipsed by Facebook and Twitter.At they time however both were pretty much the site to be on in their own right and both had staggeringly high numbers of people involved.

It may well be that in the next couple of years Facebook and Twitter will become eclipsed by some new exciting medium that people swiftly move on to.

Understanding why is important, not only for individuals, but for business's and not for profits and community groups who are able to use current social networking sites as a virtual connection to the real world.

Herein lies the reason to an extent that people are so hooked on this medium and the inherent danger that goes with it - that social networking sites allow people to believe they're connecting to the real world, when in fact they're looking at a computer screen or a phone.

The illusion of reality is fostered by the language used on Facebook and other sites of 'belonging to 'groups, of having 'friends'.

Joining Facebook and other sites is no different to using the web for any other reason - where it becomes more of an issue is when people really start believing that it is a real rather than a virtual world.

That's when its time to get out!

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