Social Networking Basics

photo: luc legay

Many people have debated the worthiness of networking online and the many social networking sites that have popped up online in the last couple of years.

Social Networking is something that you already do. Any gathering of people is a social network. Online, the premise is no different: gather some people together, find common interests and go at it.

How you go at it, or what you go at, is up to you.

And if pimply-faced teenaged boys scrubbing around Facebook and MySpace are all that come to mind when you think of social networking, then think again. Social networking is an excellent way to expand your web presence and glean information.

The entire social networking experience can be overwhelming if you don’t take it in small strides. Don’t rush around signing up for every networking site out there. If you eventually do, that’s up to you. But to start, try picking one or two and try them out. Don’t just sign up and expect it to all fall into place either. There is an active role you must take to make them relevant. Hence the social part of social networking.

For instance:

You can follow 1200 people on Twitter, and unless you jump in and participate in the discussions, you’ve gained nothing from having those 1200 people at your fingertips.

StumbleUpon is of no use if you don’t download the toolbar. Part of the interaction comes from  clicking that Stumble! button in the toolbar and finding sites that other people with your same  likes have discovered.

Let’s consider some of the benefits to online Social Networking:

They have been used to help people find places to live, roommates, reconnect with old friends, get rid of unused items.

But it’s not just for those obvious issues. One of the new and exciting things I’ve come to love about online networking is the ability to shoot a question out there and quickly find answers. Researching something? Ask your network. Need to gather a quick snapshot of opinions? Ask your network. Looking for a job? Ask your network.

Some of the social network sites, like Twitter and Plurk, are basically worldwide conversations, that offer instantaneous results. Others, like digg, StumbleUpon, and Kirtsy are more passive – you indirectly interact with each other through checking out each others likes and dislikes (these are also referred to as Social Bookmarking sites). Even Flickr has groups that connect people with common interests – from knitting to strange hair.

And when you really get the hang of social networking, there is even a browser, [Flock], for it.

There will always be people who don’t understand the appeal of online networking. Some people may even be afraid it will take over their lives or that it is only for teens and coed. It’s not for everyone.

But for those of us who use the computer for research, and work, it can be an invaluable tool.

And, I’m willing to admit, a wonderful distraction.

[If you’d like to dip your feet into the Social Networking pool, or already have, feel free to add me on Twitter and StumbleUpon.]

What Social Network sites do you use? What have you learned from using Social Networking sites?