What Are Social Networking Sites?

What Are Social Networking Sites?

Social networking refers to the act of building “networks” of people on specific websites. Social networking takes place among people who share something — a political leaning, an interest in a particular movie or musician, or an activity like yoga or gun collecting.

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A social networking site is just a means for building these social networks. These sites are made up of some web representation for each network member (a “profile”) a list of their links or interests, and some kind of ‘hook’ or gimmick to set that particular site apart from the crowd.

Social networking sites are web-based, and offer their users the ability to link and build networks freely. Members interact with email or private messaging using that site’s servers.

Why Is Social Networking So Popular?

What Are Social Networking Sites?

The past decade has been defined in part by social networking and the proliferation of multiple social networking options. This is probably because social networks are open-ended and easy to use.

Once you’ve set up a social network account and entered some basic profile information, you can basically sit back and let the social networking activity come to you. Social bookmarking is an even more refined version of social networking that lets users share specific links and news articles to their friends and other members of the site.

How Do You Get Started with Social Networking?

Social networking is about making ‘friends’ — some friends you already know may be a member of a social networking site, meaning you’ve got some built in social networks already. Once yuo branch out beyond your close friends who also use whatever social networking site you use, you can find new friends by joining groups (Democrats Together Against Joe Lieberman) or look for other people with similar interests (“the films of John Landis”) in order to build your social network.

Members of social networking share information in their profiles (location, basic interests, political leanings, religion, sexuality, etc) but you can also learn about a person based on the size of their network, the people in their network, their blog posts, links, etc. This has led to some “spying” on the part of people interested in learning about an old friend, old flame, or potential new employee. This is why proper privacy settings are important when you get involved with social networking.

Why Should I Use Social Networking?

There’s a high entertainment factor with social networking. Combine that with the “social” function of networking, and the ability to find news and links relevant to your interests, and social networking can be a way to make the Internet work harder for you. Its a good way to meet people with similar interests, and lots of small business owners, artists, actors, musicians and the like have used social networking to advance their careers.

How Do I Pick a Social Networking Site?

The kind of person you are will determine what social network you use. For example — use the social networking service Flixster to help you find movies and news and links about the film industry. Music lovers join sites like Lala.com, Last.FM, and others to find new and familiar musicians to add to their collection.

Another way to pick a social networking site — by type. If you’re between the ages of 13 and 18, you will most likely use Myspace. If you’re between 18 and 40, Facebook is your domain. People older than 40 have more specialized social networking needs, and join sites more by interest, such as 43Things, a “life improvement” site, or TakePart which is a social network for activists.

What Are the Most Popular Social Networking Sites?

Ranked by number of inbound links and number of monthly visitors, these are the top ten most popular social networking sites.

1. Facebook

With 722,000,000 inbound links and an estimated 122,220,000 monthly visitors, Facebook is the King of social networking. Alexa ranks Facebook.com as the fourth most popular website in the world, meaning Facebook is a heavy hitter outside the world of social networking as well. Facebook is big in the younger set — the saying goes that “if it isn’t on Facebook, it didn’t happen”. Facebook is a popular way for employers to spy on employees and potential hires. Facebook is pretty basic as social networking goes, though there are plenty of Facebook-specific “apps” that your friends will annoy you with endlessly. If you don’t know Facebook, you don’t know the Internet.

2. MySpace

With only half of Facebook’s inbound links (about 345,000,000) and half of Facebook’s monthly visitors (an estimated 55,599,585) Myspace is the little social networking site that once ruled the world. Now seen as juvenile or “ghetto” by most of the Facebook population (believe me — plenty has been written about the “white flight” from Myspace to Facebook), Myspace is still a good resource when looking up bands. In fact, I only use MySpace now for the purpose of checking out opening acts before a concert, or finding some new music. If you’re into independent music, having a MySpace profile makes sense. Otherwise, you’d better be a nine year old girl.

3. Twitter

Twitter should probably be at number two on this list — they average 628,750,806 inbound links and weigh in with 23,000,000 monthly visitors, but their social impact is bigger than their numbers. With fewer monthly visitors than MySpace, they’re relegated to third. Twitter is the “it boy” in social networking now, with some people leaving Facebook (way too gauche) for the more refined Twitter. The cool part about Twitter is the ease with which you can find your favorite celebs and sports figures to follow. Unlike Facebook (just try “friending” one of your favorite musicians on Facebook) you can easily read star’s and smart people’s updates. Twitter could easily take over the number one spot on this list as more and more people join.

Rounding out the list are LinkedIn, Classmates.com, Ning, Bebo, HI5.com, Tagged, and MyYearbook.

Social networking is pretty much the rule of the web now — my dad’s stuffy import/export company has a Facebook page and uses Twitter to update their clients. Everyone’s doing it, and for good reason. With social networking, you can meet up with old friends, make new ones, or keep in touch with business associates and potential collaborators.

See also: What Are Social Bookmarking Sites?

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