Basics of Social Networking

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Social Networking: Cast Your Social Net on the Web

You’ve undoubtedly heard the names Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster thrown around in recent years. These sites are examples of online social networks, and are a tiny fraction of the number of similar sites taking root on the Web. We're all familiar with social networks offline; they could be one’s professional contacts, college friends, or family members. Online social networks take this idea of connecting with others and make it digital. Whether it’s for fun, business, romance, or any other reason, more and more people are interacting over the Net. To learn more about this phenomenon, and to do some networking of your own, use the resources provided in this guide. For a Spanish-language version of the Guide, click here.

Basics of Social Networking

Joining an online social network is pretty simple. In general, you’ll go to the site, create a username, add information about yourself to your profile, and search for contacts. How you interact with other users is up to you. On some networks you can send private or public messages, on others you can proudly display your friends on your profile page, and on some social networks your contacts receive an update every time you change details of your profile (and vice versa). Just like in the real world, once you’re in a group of contacts, your number of connections can grow exponentially.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Social networking is at the core of the Web 2.0 movement, where users have some level of interaction or involvement with the content on the Web sites they visit. The findingDulcinea Web Technology Web Guide has an explanation of Web 2.0. Want more Web 2.0? Try Go2Web20.net.
  • Many social networking sites develop their own sets of lingo to describe the actions performed on the site. For instance, on Facebook, public messages can be written on someone's "wall," while on other sites, this feature might be called a "message board." Each space serves essentially the same purpose (for other users to post comments on your profile) but each site (for branding or other reasons) may call them something different. Many sites use the term "friending" to describe the act of adding another user to your list of contacts. However, it’s not uncommon to see terms such as “connecting," "linking," or “adding” used. If you are unsure of what a social networking word means, check the site’s “Frequently Asked Questions” section to find a definition.

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How social networking sites work ...
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Choosing a Social Network

There are many ways to get involved in the social Web. With so many sites out there, the hardest part is choosing a social network to join. Luckily, the Web hosts social networking sites for users with a diversity of interests and backgrounds, so you’re sure to find one that fits your needs.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Social networking sites come in as many angles as are there are types of people. You’ll find massive general interest social networks (such as hi5 or MySpace), social networks for professionals (such as LinkedIn), and even very specific social networks for groups of people with a shared interest (such as Ravelry for knitters or SteamStreet for investors). Take a look at the first section of Picks below to find some lists of these sites.
  • If you’re an aspiring artist, comedian, or musician, think of your social network profile as a way to promote yourself. These sites are used as effectively for marketing as they are for entertainment. For example, many musicians on MySpace create profiles and offer a few songs for users to listen to while reading about the band. Remember though, if you want to delve into these online communities, carefully monitor what is being posted on your profile page, as it’s easy for advertisers to spam users’ comments sections.
  • Dating Web sites are a popular example of online social networking. Through these services, users can explore potential partners via online user profiles. They connect electronically, and eventually face to face. Our findingDulcinea Dating Web Guide has a collection of links to dating sites, information about how to safely engage in online dating, and tips for selecting the best dating site for your needs.
  • Professional networks allow members of the workforce to interact in an online environment that isn’t flooded by the spam, media, and inanity found on many of the popular, general networking sites. There are a few professional social networking sites below to get you started. For even more help in your job search see our findingDulcinea Job Hunting Web Guide.
  • Although many social networking sites have built-in ways to personalize your profile, independent programmers have created lots of free add-ons that can help you make yours stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking to revamp your MySpace profile or add additional features to your Facebook, try entering the desired feature (such as slideshow, wallpaper, music player, and so on) and the name of the network in a search engine, and explore the results.

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To explore your social networking options …
For the best social networking sites …
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For photo- and video-sharing social networks …
For professional social networks …
To reconnect with old friends and classmates …
To create your own social network …
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Social Networking Safety Tips

Anytime you put personal information into the public domain you run the risk of that personal information being used against you (in identity theft, phishing scams, or to take advantage of a young child). If you’re concerned for your child’s online safety, or the privacy and safety of your own information, the following sites have plenty of tips to keep you (and your personal information) safe on social networking sites.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Here are some key safety tips to follow for online social networking (each is explained in more detail below):
    • Adjust your privacy settings to keep your information out of public view.
    • Parents can set up accounts and “friend” their children to help watch their activities.
    • Be suspicious of e-mails claiming to be from your social networking site. Don’t give out sensitive information in response to an e-mail.
    • To avoid phishing, check the URL at the top of the screen before you enter your username and password on a social networking site—there are imposter sites that exist to get this information, so make sure you are where you think you are.
    • Many social networks rely on users to report inappropriate or illegal behavior so if you encounter this, report it to the site, or to a state or federal authority.
  • Most social networking sites have privacy settings that control, among other things, who is allowed to view your personal profile. Changing your privacy settings is one of the easiest ways to stay safe (and keep your information confidential). If you aren’t sure how to do this, see the Pick from GetNetWise below.
  • If you’re a parent, consider setting up your own basic profile on the sites where your child has an active profile, and "friend" them. This way you'll be privy to the information and images that your child is making available. You won’t, however, have the ability to view private messages, which are sent between individual users.
  • Criminals are increasingly using the practice of online "phishing" to steal identities. Phishing is the attempt to obtain personal and financial information by pretending to be a legitimate company or organization. Any e-mails that you receive that claim to be from your social networking site should be considered suspect and examined very carefully. Phishing can be accomplished through Web sites or e-mail, so be cautious no matter what you're doing online. In general, you can thwart phishing attempts simply by being wary of unsolicited requests for any of your personal information, especially account numbers and passwords. Avoid clicking away from the social networking site and always check the URL of the site (even if it looks legit) before you enter your username and password. If an online “friend” sends you a request to click away from the social networking site or sends you an advertisement, proceed with caution as your friend’s account may have been compromised. Read more about phishing on the sites featured in this section.
  • Remember that the information you make available online could be found by an employer or friend. Your online profile is a reflection of you so make sure that whatever you put out there, you wouldn’t mind your potential or current boss (or even your mother) finding.

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The Latest Social Networking News

When a new site strikes gold with an idea, waves of imitators and innovators follow with hopes of making a stake of the fortune. Social networking is no exception. Although still a fairly young industry, the face of social networking is constantly changing, with new sites cropping up all over the Web. To keep up, all you have to do is a little surfing.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Bloggers play a large role in evaluating, recommending, and circulating news about social networking (including new developments on older sites as well as the emergence of newer sites). Finding a blog or blogger that you like to read can be a great way to stay up to date with social networking developments. For more information to help you discover a new blog, see our findingDulcinea Blogs Web Guide.
  • Lots of social networks have started integrating "news feeds" into the sites so that you know exactly what your online friends are up to in their daily lives. One social network, Twitter, has only one purpose: to let users answer the question, “What are you up to?” With Twitter, you can let your friends know what you’re doing, in real time, whether it’s studying, sleeping, using the bathroom, or any other mundane daily activity.
One trend in social networking is to combine your online and offline activity by taking social networks to your mobile phone: mobile phone alert features are integrated into the online community. Sites such as Dodgeball.com and Going let you take your network with you (via your phone) and contact other users who are out on the town, via text message.
See our findingDulcinea Technology Web Guide (and check out the “What’s happening in technology today?” section) to get more sources for Web and technology news.

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Community Links in Social Networking

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