21 – Social Networking

thing21new

Facepalm? Facebook

Facebook is another one of those services that you’ve probably heard a lot about, even if you haven’t actually used it yourself.  Well, if you’ve found yourself wondering why tools like Facebook (or MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, or whatever social networking space that’s captured the press’ overwrought imagination this week) are so popular, you’ll be happy to know that this week is devoted to exploring these tools — what they are, how they work, and why libraries should care.

What is it?

Pinning down a definition of a “social network” is a bit difficult — it’s one of those things where you know it when you see it.  That said, most social networking sites have a few features in common:

  • Profile PagesWhen you sign up for an account on a social networking site, your “profile page” becomes your home base. Most social networks allow you to add as much or as little information about yourself as you’d like. Common fields include your name, contact information, interests, and a photograph of yourself. Some social networks allow you to customize your profile page by changing the design, colour, or look of the page (e.g. MySpace), whereas other social networking sites use the same look & feel for all profile pages (e.g. Facebook).
  • ‘Friending’This is probably the most important characteristic of a social network because finding friends (existing or new) on a social networking site is pretty much the point of being there in the first place. So, most social networks allow you to add another person/profile as a ‘friend’ or a ‘contact and your collection of friends becomes your own personal social network. The ‘friending’ aspect of an online social network often accounts for why some social networking sites are popular with specific groups. For example, Facebook began as a social network for college and university students; it has since opened up to allow anyone to join the network, but it still remains most popular with students. Why? Because people go where their friends are!
  • GroupsWith real life social networks, groups tend to form around common interests; with that in mind, most online social networks allow users to start a group or join a group based on their interests or common goals. Depending on the social networking site, you will probably find a group that represents your interests, regardless of what that interest might be.

While many 2.0 tools use some of these elements (e.g. contacts on Flickr, Delicious’ network, profile pages on YouTube), most sites that are considered to be online ‘social networks’ have all these elements in common.

Popular Online Social Networks

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  • Facebook: Originally limited to college and university students, Facebook is now the most popular social networking site in the world, finally eclipsing arch-rival MySpace after a long-running battle.  Facebook users tend to be older, more educated and more affluent than MySpace users.  Facebook defines itself as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.”
  • MySpace: MySpace has had a somewhat controversial history that has seen it simultaneously be one of the most popular sites on the web, claiming over 90 million accounts, and one of (if not) the worst designed.   Its userbase is younger and more female than Facebook’s, and it’s used by many musicians, particularly independent ones, to promote their work.  MySpace appears to have plateaued, and may even be on the decline.  dannah boyd has an interesting look at the class divisions between MySpace and Facebook users, for those who are interested in that kind of thing.
  • LinkedIn – if Facebook caters to the student crowd, LinkedIn is where you go when you graduate. LinkedIn is “an online network of more than 9 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 130 industries.”
  • Bebo – Bebo describes itself as “the next generation social networking site where members can stay in touch with their College friends, connect with friends, share photos, discover new interests and just hang out.”  Its userbase bears a lot in common with MySpace:  highschoolers.
  • Ning – Ning is not so much a social networking site as a site that allows you to create your own social networking site or community, complete with its own appearance and features.
To Complete Thing 21
  1. Sign up for an account on Facebook and explore UWA’s official and unofficial presences on the service. Once you’ve spent some time on Facebook, write a blog post about your thoughts and impressions.OR
  2. If you’re already a Facebook user, check out one of the other online social spaces, like MySpace or LinkedIn, or set up your own using Ning. Create an account, check out the features and blog your thoughts!
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