In the early days of the World Wide Web, the Internet was composed of largely static sites where information was provided by a site owner and read by viewers across the globe. While groundbreaking in terms of sharing information, there was little, if any, two-way interaction.
But the same technologies that powered the Web were also being used to create the first online social tools. Email allowed near instant communications with friends and colleagues. Instant Message brought the ability to converse back and forth in real time. Chat rooms brought like-minded people together to discuss their favorite interests. Forums provided communities to ask questions and get feedback.
As these technologies matured, they began to allow for larger and larger groups to converse together. It became clear that the Internet had the potential to bring vast communities of people together from all across the world. And soon we saw the rise of true social networking, which combined the best of all these tools and provided users with a means of expressing themselves and communicating instantly with former classmates, old friends, business associates, fellow hobbyists, or the entire world.
These days, there is a social outlet for everyone, whether you want to share your every moment or simply keep up-to-date with your peers. Regardless of your goal, there’s a tool that can help you connect.
More than just a storehouse of information, the Internet has become a place for human interaction–the 21st-century version of a town square or mall. In the last few years, social networking sites have exploded, allowing millions of people around the world to meet and hang out together.
Touted as a “social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family, and coworkers”, Facebook's ranks have swollen to over 400 million users worldwide. But what is Facebook and why is it so popular? The answers depend upon who you ask.
“But what can be expressed with just 140 characters?” you might wonder. Surprisingly, Twitter's popularity is tied directly to that meager amount of text. McDonald's, for example, tested Twitter and was surprised by the amount of feedback it received about its Monopoly game through tweeting (the process of sending a tweet, a message on Twitter).
When it comes to doing business, it's not what you know, but who you know. Let's say that you're interested in working for Apple Computer. You could think about all the people you know and perhaps who they know, trying to figure out if any of them have “connections” at Apple. But in the age of social networking, it's far more effective to use an online service called LinkedIn.
While sites like Facebook and Twitter may come to mind when discussing social media, the video-sharing site YouTube.com is an interesting case, catering to a massive community of hundreds of millions of people around the world.
When we're out in the real world, there are unspoken rules that guide us. Yet as we move our social interactions online, especially to social networking websites, do the same rules of etiquette apply?
Shakespeare's play As You Like It is best known for the following quote:
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;”
We all play different roles during the course of our lives, and with each one comes a different type of social need.
Spreading awareness of a particular cause once meant knocking on doors, writing letters, and calling people. Now people create websites, send emails, post messages to online forums, and use social networking tools to inform the masses.
One of the most compelling features of the Internet may well be the ability to communicate inexpensively in real-time, via personal computers and mobile devices. With the Internet, you can see, hear, talk to and collaborate with people in different locations around the world, without the expense of travel.
With online chat, you can communicate in real time with people all around the world. In most cases, you don't need any special software, just your web browser.
A new technology, Internet telephony, also known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) virtually eliminates long distances charges, allowing you to call almost anywhere in the world for the price of a local call. If you have broadband Internet access, you can't beat the price–it's practically free.
Social Networking is for Everyone
The number and range of social networking sites are constantly growing, so it would be impossible to list all of them here. If you can’t find a social network that fits your needs, start with the sites here and see if any of them offer special groups tailored to your interest. For example, thousands of groups exist on Facebook covering a wide range of topics. Or you can form you own group.
The sites above can also help you find like-minded individuals to share your ideas with. Talk to them, and find out what other tools they use. But also remember that anyone can connect to social networks, so use good judgement and don’t overshare.
If you’re still nervous about joining the social world, take small steps. Set up a Facebook profile and add some of your friends. Start a LinkedIn account and connect with your coworkers. You don’t have to post right away. Just browse. See what other people are talking about, and join the conversation when you’re ready.