#9 Explore Social Networks
Social Networking in Plain English (1:48)- Another fun Common Craft video explaining social networking sites and why they’re so popular.
Any article or conversation about Web 2.0 will inevitably stress the newly acknowledged primacy of the experience of the Web for the user. And the vehicle for converting the user’s experience from that of a solitary, passive viewer (as in what might be called Web 1.0) to one of rich, dynamic content and broad, interactive participation is social networking.
The term is older than you might assume, originating not in the digital age but in the mid-20th century. Coined by sociologists, social networks were defined as ‘a map of the relationships between individuals, indicating the ways in which they are connected through various social familiarities’. Web 2.0 has extended this concept to allow Web users to create their own social networks, sharing experiences and events, communication, news, photographs, music, video, and other content with not only their real-world family and friends but also the virtual world of ‘friends’ on-line with whom they share interests.
Defining Online Social Networks
As with a lot of 2.0 tools, pinning down a definition of a “social network” is difficult — it’s one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” tools! But how do you know what to look for? Here are a few characteristics of social networks:
- profile pages: when 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, color, or look of the page (MySpace is an example), whereas other social networking sites use the same look & feel for all profile pages (Facebook is an example).
- “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 (not dissimilar to the way social networks form offline too!). 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!
- groups: with real life social networks, groups tend to form around common interests, therefore 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, “friends” on Digg, profile pages on YouTube), most sites that are considered to be online “social networks” have all these elements in common.
Another way of looking at it then is that “social networks” exist primarily to help people keep in touch personally or professionally. These sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Ning, provide users the freedom to add pictures, slideshows, audio and video excerpts, and even custom designs. The other sites concentrate on users’ specific common interests such as video (YouTube), photography (Flickr), music (last.fm), or books (Library Thing). The features offered by these ‘specific’ sites tend to be much more geared toward the nature of their content, and are often not as malleable as their “social network’ cousins.
Popular Online Social Networks
- Facebook – most popular with college and university students, Facebook bills itself as ‘a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them. People use Facebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.’ Facebook in fact outstrips even photo-sharing site Flickr in users of its photo section. Originally restricted to university and college students, then expanded to include high-schoolers, Facebook membership is now open to everyone, and hosts over 28 million users. The second-most-visited social networking site in the US, Facebook is the dominant such site in Canada, Norway, South Africa, and much of the Middle East.
- MySpace – what began as a place for independent bands to promote their concerts and music has turned into the most popular online social network in the English-speaking world! By far the most popular of the social networking sites, boasting over 180 million users, MySpace has entered the ranks of cultural phenomena. Alexa Internet, which gauges Web traffic, lists Myspace is the sixth most popular site on the web, beating Wikipedia, Blogger, Ebay and Flickr. Over 150,000 new Myspace profiles are created daily. MySpace allows you to create a personal website featuring information about yourself and your interests and activities. Page designs may be altered—there are countless Web sites offering custom coding aimed at MySpace users—often to chaotic effect. You can browse, search, invite friends to connect and interact, share film reviews, make comments, post mail and blog entries, post classified ads. You can create or join groups for friends with common interests.
MySpace has a musical element as well, as many amateur, unsigned, and even well-known bands maintain pages that serve as de facto fan sites, affording communication between bands and their supporters, and featuring up to five tunes to which users can listen (and sometimes download). Myspace allows video and music sharing, online chat, and can be browsed on mobile phones.
Because Myspace is popular among teenagers and young adults, some libraries have used Myspace to connect with their younger patrons. Read through the Discovery Resources links below to get an idea of what different libraries are doing in Myspace and what librarians are saying about it.
- Ning – Unlike the other major social networking services, Ning distinguishes itself by focusing on the creation of groups and offering the user a fully customisable platform on which to ‘create your own social network for anything.’ Employing tags to describe these networks, users find groups with which they have an affinity, with less emphasis than the other sites on finding individual friends.
Other social networking sites
Although MySpace dominates the field in the US, Mexico, Australia, and southern Europe, there are other social networking sites that actually have more users internationally than US runner-up Facebook.
Worldwide, the site with the second-greatest number of users is Google’s Orkut. Most popular in Brazil and South Asia, it is approaching 60 million users. Not far behind Orkut, San Francisco-based Hi5 has 50 million users and is most popular in Central America and the Andean countries, and also Portugal, Tunisia, and Mongolia. Bebo, based in San Francisco as well, is the number one social networking site in Ireland and New Zealand, and has overtaken MySpace in the UK. And Friendster, probably the first social networking site you heard of back a few years ago, is still alive and well and the most popular site in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, with nearly 30 million users.
So if you’d like to bring an international aspect to your social networking, one of these sites is certain to please.
Libraries & Online Social Networks
A number of Vermont libraries have started to explore the potential of online social networks to reach their users. Here are a few examples:
- Rockingham Free Public Library (Facebook)
- Fletcher Memorial Library (MySpace)
- Montgomery Town Library (Facebook)
- Stowe Free Library (Facebook)
- Windsor Public Library (Facebook)
- Highgate Public Library (Facebook)
And some Ning Users (not in Vermont)
1. With this Thing, we’re looking into some of the most popular generic and specific social networking sites. If you haven’t already, read this page and click on the links.
2. After reading through everything, what do you think about libraries using social networking sites?
3. Post on your blog answering this question and add any other thoughts you might have about social networking in general.