Week 9: Online Social Networks

If you’ve strolled through the public spaces at any of our libraries recently, you’ve probably noticed Facebook on a lot of active computer screens. Well, if you’ve found yourself wondering why tools like Facebook (or MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn, or whichever social networking space is “hot” this week!) are so popular, you’ll be happy to know that this week is devoted to exploring these tools — what they are, how they work, and why libraries should care!

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, colour, 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.

Popular Online Social Networks

  • Facebook – most popular with college and university students, Facebook defines itself as “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.”
  • 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!
  • LinkedIn – if Facebook caters to the student crowd, LinkedIn is where you go when you graduate! LinkedIn is “an online network of more than 9 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 130 industries.”
  • Bebo – Bebo describes itself as “the next generation social networking site where members can stay in touch with their College friends, connect with friends, share photos, discover new interests and just hang out.”

Libraries & Online Social Networks
A number of libraries have started to explore the potential of online social networks to reach their users. Here are a few examples:

Activities

Just two activities this week!

  1. Sign up for an account on Facebook and explore some of the groups and profiles in the “McMaster Network”. If you’re looking for a group to join, check out the Learning 2.0 @ Mac group! Once you’ve spent some time on Facebook, write a blog post about your thoughts and impressions.
  2. Check out some of the other online social spaces, like MySpace and LinkedIn. Set up a profile (or simply explore other profiles), check out the features and blog your thoughts!

Further Readings (optional!)

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