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.

Learn More: Social Networks, pt 1

January 7, 2008

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

This is a big topic, so we’ll start today and wrap it up tomorrow.

So far in this series, we’ve opened accounts on several niche social web sites, uploaded content (photos, book titles, bookmarks, etc.), and mingled a bit with other people. This week, we’ll look at a few giants of social networking: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. What do people do on social networks?

Post. A few hundred million people around the world house their online identities on these sites. Some people stick to the basics on their profiles, but others get comfortable and let their personalities shine through. Publishing (or posting) to the web can become a creative outlet. Users fill their pages with thoughts, interests, desires, photos, music, videos, and online discoveries. The pages they create often become the web addresses they most often give to friends and family.

Interact. The most amazing phenomenon social sites make possible, of course, surrounds the networking. You (and your page) become “friends” with another person (and her page). The software makes it easy to jump from your page to hers. Many sites even send you a “feed”– a kind of news ticker — that tells you what new things she has added to their page. Making a friend is just the start. You might collect more friends over time, building a network of family, friends, and acquaintances who can stay in touch quite easily. Each new connection is a like a direct link to a friend’s world that you may visit any time you’d like.

Communicate. Because it belongs to you, your page can become your message board. You can post photos and comments to your own page instead of sending email (and clunky attachments) to all of your friends and family. They can check in (at their convenience) and find out what you’re up to and what’s on your mind. You can say things publicly or privately, visit their pages (to see what they’re up to), and even meet your friend’s friends.

As a recent article in Slate explained, there is a trend toward communicating within networks instead of standard email. Email is incredibly convenient, but networking sites share so much more than an email could. They are multi-dimensional. An email from an acquaintance, for instance, might tell you only relevant facts. A social site, on the other hand, could reveal a common love of U2 music or scuba diving — things that could foster a better appreciation of each other but would have never otherwise come up.

Think of it this way: An email is like a short phone call. A social site is like sitting down in your friend’s front room and seeing all the pictures and knick-knacks they like to surround themselves with.

Caveat: I’m speaking glowingly of these sites because of their potential. You could easily misuse a social site as well. Those are the cases that end up in the news. Posting too much information might be unwise, unsafe, or embarrassing. Comfort levels vary from person to person. The rule I generally advocate: Don’t post anything you’d regret if your loved ones, your boss, or a creepy stranger stumbled upon your page.

Meaning for libraries

  • Cultural awareness. This is, increasingly, how people interact. Understand it. Better yet, join in.
  • Professionally. Librarians and library staff can use social networking sites to stay in touch with colleagues anywhere in the world. In fact, they can expand their social circle by connecting with fellow conference-goers and collaborators.
  • Patron interaction. Many libraries have social network pages. If patrons spend so much time in these networks, it makes sense for libraries to be available to them there, too. Library social sites can tout services, share photos, advertise upcoming programs, and connect readers with bookclubs and authors. Perhaps more importantly, the informal nature of social sites may help the library appear more approachable and friendly. Make friends with your patrons. Have fun on the page. Speak casually. Leave the formal language on the official website.
  • Personal librarians. In addition to a social networking page for the organziation, many librarians set up individual pages to become “that friend at the library”. Such an arrangement might give your patrons the comfort in knowing that they can simply pop over to their librarian’s page to ask a question or get help with something. It’s personal service. They’ll know someone who knows stuff. Cool.

Learn more by participating

  • Watch Social Networking in Plain English, a short introductory video from the folks at Common Craft.
  • That’s Part 1. In Part 2, we’ll look at three big social networks, pick one, and set up shop.

Social networking is getting the traffic

December 12, 2007

If anyone needed more evidence that people increasingly use the Internet to interact, just look at the current list of sites getting the most traffic worldwide.

  1. Yahoo!
  2. Google
  3. Microsoft Live
  4. YouTube
  5. MSN
  6. MySpace
  7. Facebook
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Hi5
  10. Orkut

Source: alexa.com, 12/12/2007

Four of the ten sites are search engines (1, 2, 3, 5), but five are social web sites (4, 6, 7, 9, 10) and the lone .org on the list — Wikipedia — is a social collaboration. When you consider that the four search engines have email, instant messaging, and personalized content, it’s tough to deny that the web is steering decidedly toward interaction. In fact, the only “information” website in the Top 20 is Microsoft at #18. YouTube traffic even exceeds Google on weekends now.

The Top 5 sites in the United States?
Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook.

Question: Libraries have long been known as sources of information. Shouldn’t they be known as places of interaction, too?