Social Networking…Web 2.0 Style
Do you know someone who’s recently been poked by a friend? Are you wondering what the tweeting is all about? Would you like to know what’s drawing people to Facebook, YouTube and more? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you aren’t alone. With the seemingly overnight success of social media, the only thing outnumbering the multitude of networking sites available are the questions we have about joining in.
Online social networking is actually not as new as we might imagine, however its reach and membership have exploded in the past decade. This is largely due to the growing availability and use of wireless devices such as cell phones and iPhones, the increase in the number of home computers, and the popularity of video games and specifically online gaming.
Social networking in its most simplest form refers to the process of building relationships through web-based groups, discussion forums, blogs and other websites that are designed for connection, collaboration, and expression. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, with different types of social networking sites focusing on a specific purpose. Types of social media include:
- Networks – these online communities are used to connect people who share similar interests or experiences. Many include additional functionality that enhances the experience for members, such as the ability to play games, give virtual gifts, or share pictures. Popular social networking sites include LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook (where friends can “poke” each other online).
- Blogs – these sites are best described as online journals and are typically authored by a single individual. Blogs are usually a one-way flow of information from authors to readers, and may allow readers to comment on posts but not to edit them. Hybrids of these sites are microblogs such as Twitter, where messages or “Tweets” are limited to 140 characters.
- Wikis – these sites are typically used for knowledge creation and sharing, and wiki content is often written and edited by many authors. Unlike blogs, wikis encourage users to both use and contribute the information contained there. The most well-known example of a wiki site is Wikipedia.
- File sharing – these sites have been specifically created to facilitate the sharing of pictures, videos and other files. A key advantage to this method of sharing is that files are uploaded to, and viewed from, the site’s servers, eliminating the need to e-mail or store large files locally. Popular file sharing sites include YouTube and Flickr.
- Gaming – sites such as World of Warcraft and Second Life allow users to interact with other players inside a virtual environment. Players select or create Avatars to represent themselves and interact with others in collaborative or combative situations. Most online games also include public or private forums, and instant messaging options that allow players to have conversations with each other.
If you’re thinking of joining in, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- So many sites means it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and history has demonstrated that it’s difficult to maintain a presence in more than 2-3 social media sites at one time. For this reason, consider your purpose for connecting online and pick the site or sites accordingly.
- Not all sites are created equal and can vary greatly in terms of privacy and access settings. It’s worthwhile to explore site tutorials, FAQs, and help sections to gain an understanding of the site’s features and functionality, and control who has access to your information.
- While some organizations have embraced social networking technology, many others are still in the infancy stage and may not have a strategy or policies in place to govern the use of social media. As an employee, it’s never a good idea to share criticisms or confidential or proprietary information online about ones employer. Individuals have faced disciplinary action for these acts, even in the absence of formal social networking policies.