It wasn't clear in 1995, that the social aspect of the Internet would become so important. We imagined the Internet as a vast library, not as a vast pool of potential friends or business associates.
There were social networks before Ryze. We called them List Servs, and they allowed members to discuss whatever the members wanted to discuss, but within the purpose of the group. Each group had an owner, who from time to time might set out the rules and perhaps even discipline a member.
Whatever the nominal interest of the group, the discussion was usually about "best practice". The members were learning from each other. Professional groups began to talk about themselves as being a "community of practice."
Gregory Bateson tells us the "Context is everything". Fact, or knowledge on their own mean nothing until they are put into context. Membership of a group helps to give you that context. We can be effective when we live in a world that is "joined together", Bateson says, and the way we most easily understand what we know and how it fits together is by making up a story. This web page is a story like that.
The online social networks now available give you the opportunity to do the obvious thing, to connect to people you know who now live far away. But the main benefit for you and for society as a whole might be the ability to connect to people you don't yet know. People you don't know bring something new to the conversation and that allows your to learn and opens the opportunity for new insight and innovation.