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
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.
- 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.
How social networking sites work ...
has a detailed explanation of what social networking sites are and how they work, as well as what to expect during the registration process. This article describes potential security weaknesses of social networks (namely you, the user), and then goes on to discuss some more specific types of social networks (such as professional networks or networks for fashionistas).
is a blog by Mark Glaser on the PBS site that covers new media. This entry gives a brief history of social networking and includes terminology as well as a few specific examples of successful social networks. This is a good way to familiarize yourself with the concept of online social networking.
Common social networking terms ...
provides definitions of lots of acronyms and Web speak with which you might be unfamiliar. Although this site might not include some common social networking actions or wording (such as "wall" or "friending") this is a great place to go to decode some common Web abbreviations and get definitions of Web technology terms.
has defined some of the lingo surrounding social networking and explains the features and main functions of some of the more popular social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Friendster, and Bebo.
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.
- 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.
To explore your social networking options …
is a directory of the newest and most “2.0” sites on the Web. Choose the tag "social" to see an amazingly large list of old and new social networking sites and applications.
has a list of social networking Web sites that includes the site name and URL, a quick description of what it does, an approximation of the number of users, and how you can join.
The Open Directory Project
is a link directory that has a list of more than 100 social networking sites. Note that anyone can add a link or description to the directory listings so some of the links were probably added by the sites themselves, but you can still take a gander at all of the networks that are out there.
For the best social networking sites …
hosts the Open Web Awards and lets users vote for the best online communities each year. Take a look at the winners of the 2006 Social Networking Awards
. You’ll find Mashable’s choices for the best sites in a number of categories including “Widgets and Add-Ons,” “Photo Sharing,” “Music,” and “Mobile.”
The Webby Awards
have been around since 1997 and recognize some of the best Web sites and applications online in a variety of categories. For the winners in the social networking category from 2007, scroll way down the page (categories are in alphabetical order).
For popular social networks …
started as a network just for students but is now open to any Internet user. This social network allows you to search and connect with other users through criteria such as school, location, name, or other profile details. Its many applications allow users to share photos, write messages on public "walls," send private messages to friends, give virtual "gifts" to friends, and much more. This is a good way to keep up with the happenings of your friends without a great deal of effort.
offers you the ability to rank your contacts and display some of your "top friends" (your favorite social contacts) on your own profile page, set a favorite song to play when others look at your profile, and even embed video onto your profile page. Many celebrities, music groups, comedians, and video producers have MySpace profiles.
is a lot like MySpace but with a much more international membership. If you have friends from places around the world, you’re likely to locate them on hi5. Among a variety of features, this site allows you to give other members a virtual “hi5.”
is a Google-based social network named after the programmer who put it together. Join this network using your Gmail account or by creating one for free to see what other Googlers are up to.
is a newly created social networking site directed primarily toward a latino audience. Apart from allowing users to create a profile and interact with other users on the site, MiApogeo offers articles on lifestyle and entertainment, blogs and an innovative Wiki feature for Latino history and culture, based on content submitted by the site's users.
For photo- and video-sharing social networks …
allows you to store and share your digital photos with family and friends. Organize your photos in many innovative ways, such as by plotting them on a map. Sometimes more interesting than your own photos, though, are the photos of other users. Because you can choose to make your photos public or private, the public photos are available for viewing by anyone on the site. Just search by keyword if you are looking for a picture of, say, a bumblebee—you'll probably be able to find one. If you have any questions, the Flickr tour can help you get started.
not only stores photos for you to share with your friends and family, it stores and shares your videos as well. You can even use Photobucket to create slideshows and remixes of your photos, and as a host for videos that you've posted on other sites.
is the most popular video-sharing social network. Search for and watch user-submitted videos that feature just about anything—think America’s Funniest Home Videos
in a free-for-all format. If you find videos you like, you can check out other content from the same user and even connect to them the same way you’d do in any other social network.
For professional social networks …
is a networking site that allows you to set up a profile, then connect with colleagues (past and present), old classmates, or search for other people in your industry. LinkedIn alerts you if other people from your company sign on so that you can connect with them.
is a place to post job leads and to get job leads from others. The site works on a point system: you have to post your own leads in order to request one from someone else.
is a search engine and networking site in one. Create a profile, add "tags" (keywords) to your profile, and network with other users. If you are just searching for jobs, you can do so without creating a profile. When job results are returned, read what other users are saying about that company.
(pronounced "rise") can help you create networks with others in your field, search for jobs using its "Classifieds" section, or check out the career-related events going on in your area.
is a job site for those in the tech industry. The article, “Make a Social Network Work For You,” has tips for job seekers or professionals to help them keep their social network alive and thriving as a career boost. Don’t miss the author’s evaluation of the professional networking opportunities available in a few common social networks.
To reconnect with old friends and classmates …
is (as the name suggests) a place for you to connect with old classmates and stay up to date with reunions. Choose your state, the letter (and then name) of your city, and then choose your school to sign up and find other students. Classmates will encourage you to sign up for paid membership but be aware that basic membership is available for free.
(Where Are You Now?) is a site dedicated to helping you track the friends you meet on your travels and keep in touch with them. It’s also a travel guide for different cities and countries. Meet new people who will be traveling where you are, or keep in touch with old contacts from previous travels.
To create your own social network …
lets you create your own social network and share it with whomever you choose. This is great for people who want to keep their social networking private, or for those who want to create a social network for something very specific.
provides reviews of nine social networking platforms that allow you to create your own social network. These reviews cover Ning, KickApps, CrowdVine, GoingOn, CollectiveX, Me.com, PeopleAggregator, Haystack, and ONEsite.
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.
- 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.
Don't Believe the Type
has a series of articles aimed at teens to help them keep their information private. This page, "Know the Dangers" can help teens avoid potentially dangerous situations when using social networks and lets teens know when to report unsavory activity.
The Federal Trade Commission
offers a guide for social networking safety called "Social Networking Sites: Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens." It provides a good overview of things for teens and tweens to consider when participating in an online social network.
has tips for parents about keeping their children safe on social networking sites. Some of these tips include adjusting the privacy settings on their child’s profile, limiting mobile phone access to the Web, and talking to your kids about appropriate online behavior.
has some tips for specific social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook that show you how to adjust your privacy settings to keep your info secure.
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.
- 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
let you take your network with you (via your phone) and contact other users who are out on the town, via text message.
is a blog that covers much of what you’d want to know about online social networking. If something new develops in the social networking market, you’ll read about it here.
has an entry by Marshall Kirkpatrick that explains why he thinks there is a seemingly never-ending need for niche social networks.
evaluates new Internet companies. Try searching for “social” or “social network” in the “Search posts” box (scroll down the right side to find it) to read their reviews of new social networking sites.
reviews around 20 new sites each day, so it’s no wonder that this is the place to go to find new social networking sites
. Although KillerStartups might not be the first site to review a startup (a startup may actually be online a few weeks before it appears here), it does a good job of covering the gamut of startups (while some sites that review new sites end up leaving out a few here and there). Users can then vote on how successful they think each site will be.
is a blog that discusses marketing communications as it relates to new technology. Here you’ll find an index of all posts tagged with “social networking,” plus plenty of discussion on how new developments in social networking might impact online marketing.
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