Tue, Nov 10, 2009
Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Linked In and My Space. Not one of these websites existed a decade ago, but in a flash they have appeared on the Internet, changing our lifestyles forever.
All these websites belong to the Web 2.0, a term which applies to the second generation Internet that emerged after the dot com crash in 2000.
Web 2.0 sites encourage people to socialise, share information and interact online. They differ to early websites that usually concentrated on a single function and were built and managed by closed networks of publishers.
Britannica Online, for example, was an early site that has been superseded in Web 2.0 by Wikipedia, an ‘open source’ online encyclopaedia that is written and edited by anyone.
Which social networking sites might be right for me?
The likelihood is that there is a social networking (or social media) site for you. If you are a photographer you can upload and share you photos (with appropriate licenses) on Flickr or Picasa.
If you want a website to help you keep in touch with old friends and family then you can update your latest status, photos and leave messages on Facebook.
Twitter is another site that you might find useful. It allows users to publish 140 character messages (with links to other website) and interact with others from their very own personal feed.
Twitter is particularly popular among members of the media such as publishers, journalists and PRs who use it to search for the latest news, to gauge public opinion and build ‘online communities.’
It has also been used by celebrities such as Britney Spears and Stephen Fry as a means of connecting with their fan base.
If you would like to use Web 2.0 to help you find a new job or make new professional connections then you might want to join LinkedIn.
LinkedIn currently has more than 50,000,000 registered users and once you have joined you can upload your CV, search for people who work in similar roles to you and contribute to online discussions.
In addition to these there is a wealth of other social networking sites that cater for just about every possible niche. My Space is used by musicians to broadcast their songs, Blip and Last FM allow people to be online DJs and WAYN (Where Are You Now) can be used by travellers to link with others and send messages back home.
How to I join a social networking site?
Joining a social networking site is easy. All you have to do is visit the welcome page and create a new user profile (which is linked to your email account) and select a password. Once you have done this you can start using the site immediately (they are usually free).
To make your digital footprint (your online identity) consistent, it is a good idea to use the same profile name across every single one of your social networking sites. This makes it as easy as possible for other people to find you. Usually people just prefer to use their names, but it is also quite common to use a pseudonym.
What is the future of social networking?
The number of new social networking sites seems to be increasing by the day and it can be exhausting to try and keep up. The most obvious new field of growth, however, seems to be on mobile phones.
You can now access site like Twitter and Facebook through your telephone and not just your computer, meaning that you can take your social media profiles with you wherever you go.
While you still need to have a computer to do some of the more complex tasks ‘smart-phones’ such as the iPhone or the Blackberry offer a whole new field of growth for social networking sites. Already there are new sites such as audioboo (a Twitter-like mini podcasting service) that are primarily designed to be used on mobile telephones.
Expect the number of these sites to continue to grow quickly over the next few years.
What are the threats?
There are dangers associated with social networking. If you are not careful then everything that you post on Facebook can be publically accessible, leading to any number of embarrassing situations. People have already been sacked for complaining about their employer on Facebook.
There is also lingering threat that you accounts may be hacked. Many social networking sites are run by a tiny number of administrators in comparison to their registered number of users (as one point Twitter was run by a staff of around 20 when it had a user-network of many million).
This means that the sites cannot possiblly respond to every single case of identity theft and often they do not have the time to build robust protection barriers. For these reasons, you should be very careful with the information that you enter into these sites.
The best bet is not to put in anything sensitive (addresses, date of birth, bank account details) at all.
I want to get started with social networking today. Can you give me a list of good sites?
Yes. Of course we can. These ten are a good starting-point for anyone:
1. Facebook (for keeping in touch with friends and family)
2. You Tube (for uploading videos and watching other people’s)
3. Flickr (you can upload photographs and license them under the creative commons)
4. Delicious (a brilliant site for bookmarking your favourite web-links)
5. Twitter (for publishing 140 character messages)
6. My Space (for musicians and listening to new music)
7. Blip FM (this site enables you to be a DJ and amass listeners)
8. WAYN (Where Are You Now is designed for travellers and those on gap years)
9. Posterous (great, easy-to-use blogging software)
10. Vimeo (similar to You Tube but, well, a little bit better)
Written by John Hillman
John Hillman is the editor of PC Site and a writer/journalist who spends his days researching and writing about new technology, cybercrime and social media.