The Social Network Companion

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

Using Facebook
source: Steven Mileham

Back when I first began using the Internet in the mid 1990s (did I just date myself??), what we now know as social networks did not yet exist. The closest thing to a social networking profile or blog were the meticulously hand coded homepages that people would upload to whatever web server they had access to.

Until instant messaging like AIM became more popular, online chat was relegated to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or telnet text-based talker programs. Creating websites or connecting to these chats required at least some technical knowledge.

Modern social networking has changed all that. These days, we are able to chat with friends and colleagues and share information easily using social networking sites like Facebook, without being a programming or design guru.

If you’re a social networking addict – raises hand – chances are you are already familiar with a lot of this. But if you’re new to social networking, or want to know more about networks you may not already be familiar with, here’s a quick primer on navigating social networking.

The Players

The two most prominent social networking site in North America are Facebook and Twitter though both function differently from each other. Google+ is a newcomer to the social networking scene but has already gained quite a bit of attention with features that mimic both Facebook and Twitter. Other popular social networks include LinkedIn, MySpace and various Ning-based social networks.

Facebook

Launched in February 2004, Facebook is the defacto social networking standard. With over 750 million active Facebook users in 2011, there’s a good chance you know more than a few people using Facebook. Facebook is a platform that allows users to share details about their lives, businesses and interests.

The Good

The straightforward interface is easy for many people to use. Facebook is an all-encompassing platform that offers many services to share information, from basic personal information to applications within the website like photo sharing games. (Facebooking game addicts, you know who you are!)  Various web applications and blog commenting plugins offer Facebook integration, allowing you to login to websites without having to create a separate account.

The Not-So-Good

Applications that interface with Facebook may have varying access to the personal information you store on Facebook. Facebook’s privacy policies are constantly evolving but Facebook does not always notify users of changes, even if they are major. Facebook does not allow you to customize the layout or backgrounds of your profile the way that other social networking sites, like MySpace, allow you to do.

Twitter

Ranked #9 on Alexa, Twitter is a social network based on the microblogging concept where users post extremely short, 140 character posts. Other Twitter, users can subscribe or follow users whose posts or tweets they find interesting.

The good

Common uses for Twitter include short news updates or chatter with friends. Twitter allows users to view and update their Twitter account from the Twitter website or from external third-party applications. Twitter profile pages can be customized with colors and backgrounds.

The Not So Good

Some find the 140 character limit of Tweets to be too restrictive. Some third party Twitter applications like Deck.ly and LongerTweet allow you to circumvent this limitation, usually by clicking a link that leads you to a non-Twitter website to read the longer tweet. Twitter only offers two levels of privacy: public, where everyone can view your tweets; or private, where only your followers have access to your Tweets.

Google+

Google+ is Google’s contribution to the social networking world. Like Facebook, it offers a more full featured social experience, integrating updates and media sharing. It uses a concept called Circles to manage users which works similarly to Twitter’s “follow” feature where users can add another Google+ user to their circle to follow them. As of August 2011, it is still “invitation-only” without word on when it will be out of beta.

The Good

Google+ features a drag and drop interface for creating Circles, allowing users to visually create different groups. Many users have found Circles allow them to more easily categorize fellow Google+ users, allowing users to easily create targeted updates. Google+ also includes a Hangout feature where you can invite people in your circles to virtually “hang out” with you live using a web cam and the integrated chat.

The Not-So-Good

Google+ is still in the process of adding features and refining current ones. A common complaint about Circles is the ability for anyone to add anyone else to their Circle. Google+ recently audited and suspended several business accounts on the service, citing that they would be rolling out a more business-friendly alternative in the future.

 

Managing Multiple Social Networks

There are no hard and fast rules for how many social networks you can be part of. The disadvantage of being part of multiple networks is the fact that it can be confusing – and time consuming! – to constantly switch between websites. While most people may find it easier to simply have one social network profile, other users may enjoy the advantages of having multiple social networks to participate in.

Use a Client

One way to get around this is to use a desktop clients to help manage multiple profiles across various networks. For example, TweetDeck allows you to view updates from twitter as well as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Foursquare.

Categorize Your Networks

Some people may make multiple account for various purposes. For example, LinkedIn is a specialized social network, aimed primarily at professionals making professional networking contacts so you may want to use it just for work networking while using Facebook or Twitter for personal usage.

Integration

Some social networks allow you to cross-post between different services. For example, Facebook allows Twitter users to post on Twitter and have that Twitter post appear on their Facebook stream. Not all social networks can integrate with each other so it is a good idea to check if the services you are interested offer integration services.

Do you like trying out new social networks? How many social networks are you a part of?

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.
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