Thursday, July 02, 2009

Guide to Social Networking Sites

I have been trying to get immersed in social networking sites as a way of letting people know about freshare or my blogs and maybe even a little bit about me. I have accounts now on most of the major sites – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn – and I started trying to figure out how each one works and what they attempt to provide to the user. So here is my very brief explanation of what you need to know about each of these social sites.

MySpace, of course, was one of the first big social networking hot spots on the web and its age is starting to show, not unlike the older part of a city where houses’ paint begins to peel and the shrubs need trimming. MySpace has a bit of a seedy feel to it. Page layouts are often gaudy and unkempt and led by flashy ads placed by Tom and the boys at the home office. When I am on MySpace, my adware/spyware software treads pages on high alert like a soldier weaving through a minefield. Ads, videos, even layout tricking sites often seem to have dangerous junk attached. Like I said, it’s a seedy place. From what I can tell, the object of MySpace is to make the foulest, coarsest comments, to be vulgar and to let your avatar project that same sense of style. I think the game is to collect as many “adds” as possible in an effort to spread this party atmosphere across the globe. To that end, MySpace is very successful.

Facebook has a cleaner, fresher look to it although there are still lots of nooks and crannies where you can sport a bit of jocularity and some shock value but not at the same level as on MySpace. There are still the profile questions about why you are there (friendship, dating) and your relationship status (single, married, it’s complicated) but you can choose not to fill out any of that and Facebook doesn’t mind. Facebook is to the suburbs what MySpace is to the red light district. But unlike MySpace, profiles are mostly set to private so it is much more difficult to try and befriend anyone you do not already know. Unlike the free-wheeling MySpace where anybody can see you and ask to cavort, Facebook is meant for people who want to stay in touch with friends they already have. But a word of caution: those suffering from low self-esteem are not likely to gain much on this site. If you do not already have a gaggle of friends in tow all with their own Facebook accounts, you are not likely to feel much better about yourself. With barriers firmly in place, Facebook seems to frown on making new friends. The object of the game is to keep in touch with existing friends online and to do so in front of all your other friends. This as opposed to such archaic communications means as texting, emails or (yuk!) phone calls. If you do not mind operating in a fishbowl, Facebook is for you.

LinkedIn is kind of the Facebook for professionals but without so much interaction, after all these are busy managers, executives and others who don’t have much time to offer meaningful dialogue so the makers of LinkedIn wisely left off that module. LinkedIn is a place to display your resume, a little important information about your skills and abilities and to, by your presence there, announce availability to potential employers. From what I can tell, the object is much like collecting coins on Mario Brothers except the term “coins” is dropped in favor of “Connections.” LikedIn is a great way to up others by showing just how plugged in you are, which is of high value to competitive business people.

Twitter is much different from any of the other major social networking sites. Twitter is like texting, but to a larger audience, or so one hopes. People talk about all kinds of things on Twitter from what they had for breakfast to breaking news stories. To keep things lively, Twitter imposes a limit of just 140 characters in your “tweets” which is the term used to describe your communiqué. That’s kind of an interesting challenge and, if nothing else, teaches us to tear out all the fluff and get directly to the point. The object of the Twitter game is to collect as many followers as possible who are willing to check in on what you have to say. To be perfectly honest, most probably don’t really care what you have to say they are simply adding you to the rest of the people they follow in hopes that you will return the favor and follow them. The more followers they have, the more they look like interesting people to follow. You follow?

There are other networking sites with broad appeal and some that simply serve niches but I am not familiar enough with any of them to offer any advice. What all these social sites do have in common is that hardly any existed until just a few years ago, people flock to them in droves, none of them seem to make any money, large companies are salivating to buy one.

In a world where phones are more useful as web browsers than for talking and we wonder how the postal service even stays in business, the future of how people connect and stay in touch will at minimum be fascinating to observe.