Understanding Social Networking Websites

Reconnect with family and friends on social networking sites

A comic strip that depicts two men, John and Jim, having a conversation. Jim asks John where he is from; John replies "Facebook."
Social networking sites are the new way to communicate with friends and
family members around the world.Geek & Poke ©2008

In just a few short years, social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter have attracted millions of users, vast media coverage, and copious amounts of advertising revenue.

What's the big deal? Non-users of these sites are often confused by their mass popularity, and unclear as to what they actually are. Whether you're hoping to write on someone's wall, or tweet about a cool new website, don't worry—the following article should help clarify things a bit.

Online social networks have changed the way we socialize

The idea behind each of these sites is really quite simple: the Internet has become a ubiquitous tool, and many people are now spending a large portion of their daily lives online, either for work or recreational purposes. Therefore, it's only natural for the millions of Internet users all over the world to want a convenient way of staying in touch with each other. Writing formal letters for snail mail is virtually extinct, and telephone use can be pricey; the Internet, however, is efficient and inexpensive.

The big one: Facebook

The founder of Facebook realized there was a huge market to be tapped into, and presto—the world of online social networking was born. Users of Facebook, and the once popular site MySpace, can keep in touch with friends near and far, old and new; they can share photos or videos, have live chats, and generally keep in touch via a medium that is both highly personalized and interactive. Facebook has also become a great medium for political parties, television shows, private corporations, and colleges and universities looking to interact with their clients, customers, and students. Check out Scribendi.com's Facebook page to see how it works.

A little birdie told me about Twitter

Twitter is what is known as a "micro-blogging" site. For those who don't know, "blog" is short for "weblog," meaning an online forum for writing and messaging, a virtual diary of sorts. For Twitter users, each "blog" update, called a "tweet," is limited to 140 characters (or about the length of the first two sentences in this paragraph). Twitter users can post their "tweets," which are then read by the user's followers. Many celebrities and corporations use Twitter, as does Scribendi.com.

LinkedIn: social networking at work

LinkedIn is unlike Facebook and MySpace in that LinkedIn is designed to promote networking in users' professional, rather than personal, lives. Users specify the particular field they are employed in (finance, teaching, engineering, etc.) and can connect to other professionals in their field. Check out the Scribendi.com LinkedIn profile to see what a company profile looks like.

All eyes are on your personal information

Although these sites can be fun, the consequences of failing to exercise caution and discretion while using social networking sites can be devastating. Many users make the mistake of believing that their online profile is private. They treat it as they would a diary, disclosing personal information and documents without careful consideration. Remember that anything posted online is in the public domain. Your photos, your address, your telephone number, your alma mater, your favorite music, your employment history—even your off-hand comments to friends are readily accessible. What's more, this information can never be erased. Do you really want the whole world to know that you cheated on your final exam? That you were driving a car without a license? That you can't stand your new brother-in-law? "Loose lips sink ships" may be an old adage, but the point is still valid. We recommend that you never disclose information online that could compromise your safety or security. When using a website, read the privacy policy carefully and set your privacy settings to a level that makes you comfortable.

Before committing yourself to any social networking site, ensure that you have explored its privacy options thoroughly and understand who will be able to access the information you choose to disclose. Even when you take every precaution available, breaches of privacy can and do occur in the cyber world at the hands of hackers. There are no privacy guarantees when it comes to a medium like the Internet. That is why the steps you take to protect your privacy are so important when using social networking sites.

Create the perfect profile

Whether you're looking to reconnect with childhood friends or research a potential employer, social networking sites are fast becoming some of the most important information portals on the Internet. Extend your social network online today by subscribing to one of the dozens of fun, free services. But be careful—remember not to divulge too much personal information. If you're using these sites to help promote yourself or your business, be sure to send your documents to our personal document editors in order to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your content. If there's one thing we've learned, mistakes go viral, fast, and can be damaging to your online reputation.

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