Learn More: Social Networks, pt 2

January 8, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

We’ll wrap up yesterday’s topic today by describing three popular social networkings sites.

  1. Read the descriptions. (Please note: These are highly abbreviated. Each site has much more depth than I can possibly squeeze into two paragraphs.)
  2. Pick a network you like and sign up. All sites mentioned here are free.
  3. Enter some information. (See my caveat in the previous post.)
  4. Be creative. Upload an avatar/buddy icon, photos, music, etc.
  5. Make friends. If friends or family already have accounts, connect with them. If you’re doing this activity with coworkers, connect with each other.
  6. Interact. Post on each other’s page or send emails.
  7. Explore the site for other applications, features, and people you know.

MySpace (217 million members). By far the most popular social networking site in the world, MySpace has a thriving community of people of all ages. Teenagers are there, of course, but the majority of users are over 35. Parents, celebrities, churches, companies, and non-profits round out the mix. The typical MySpace user fills out a profile “About Me” that describes likes and dislikes, favorite music, favorite movies, favorite books, etc. These become the snippets others read when they visit the page. A blog built into the page offers a chance to wax poetic or ramble about any subject of interest. Always an important part of the MySpace experience, musicians are given special pages within the network to offer audio clips for other members to sample or paste in their own pages. Many pages (if not most) also feature embedded videos and photos, giving MySpace a truly multimedia look. Users are also free to decorate their page with their choice of colors, background images, and flashy effects. This individual expression is a real strength to some people and a real turn-off to others.

MySpace members you can send messages to each other by leaving comments which anyone can read, or by sending private email. Instant messaging is also popular. While it is by no means a requirement, some people try very hard to increase their number of MySpace friends, encouraging and collecting hundreds or thousands of “friends” in a never-ending popularity contest. You might be content with just a few people you know personally. That’s fine. We each have a comfort level. Your friends’ buddy icons will appear on your page, leading you to their pages with a simple mouse-click. Find additional people using the search box. (Hint: Email address searches find people faster than name searches.)

Facebook (58 million members). Started in 2004, as a means for Harvard students to meet each other, Facebook expanded its membership to other universities, high school students, adults, and (recently) organizations. Facebook pages are less open to design tinkering but support a wide range of features and applications written for the Facebook development platform. Users can choose “apps” and rearrange the contents of their page as often as they’d like. If they have a Flickr page, photos can be streamed to Facebook. The same is true of blogs and other RSS feeds.

Like the MySpace Comment feature, a Facebook user’s Wall is open to the scribbling and viewing by anyone within his circle of friends. Private email is also possible. Applications provide an endless supply of “gifts”, quizzes, ratings, and other amusements to keep people busy for longer than anyone originally expects. Want to get a friend’s attention without writing an email? Facebook lets you “poke” them. It’s like a friendly ‘I’m thinking of you’ nudge. Want to share a quick thought or your current activity with everyone (or no one in particular)? Update your status. Many of these may sound silly to the uninitiated, but over time this myriad of communication formats provide glimpses of your friends you might otherwise miss.

LinkedIn (16 million members). Are MySpace and Facebook too busy for you? LinkedIn is at the other end of the spectrum, but still useful as a network. Launched in 2003 and targeting the business community, LinkedIn users network for career enhancements and commercial prospects. Whereas MySpace and Facebook profiles may remind you of a teen magazine quiz or a dating service questionnaire, a typical user profile on LinkedIn feels distinctly like a resume. Job title, industry, education, and location are crucial for connecting with others to land the next contract, get a better job, or simply keep a mutually beneficial professional relationship going.

LinkedIn has tools to find additional people in your industry and region. It also can tell you of other people in your company or school that are listed in its network. People you already know, after all, may be helpful in opening a door for you someday. Emails through the network are possible, but the chatty nature of MySpace and Facebook are nowhere to be seen. LinkedIn is almost all business.

A few other social networking sites

  • Friendster (50 million members) was one of the original social sites and made a modest splash before MySpace arrived on the scene.
  • Orkut (67 million members) is Google’s social network. It’s very popular in Brazil and India but hasn’t caused much excitement in the United States.
  • Hi5 (60 million members) is another network quite popular (in Latin America and Asia) but not as much in the U.S.

Whichever site you choose, make it to your liking, make it your online address, and remember what I keep saying: It’s your web now.