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Social Networks on the Web

Tweeting....what is that? Flickr...what? Facebook.... . You hear people talking about them and many more. What are social networks?

Social networks have been around since people began to communicate with each other. Social groups link individuals who share values, interests and beliefs and who want to interact and communicate with others about those values, interests and beliefs. The study of social networks began in the late 1800's, looking mostly into job related and classroom groups. Recently social network analysis has been used to study how patterns of human interaction aid or inhibit the spread of specific diseases. Social networks influence the spread of ideas and practices. It seems natural that people would begin to use the Internet, which is accessible to and used by so many people, to link to others, creating a social network.

So, what exactly are these websites all about? A social network service, or website, builds online communities of people who share interests and/or activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Social networking online has encouraged new ways to communicate and share information and social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people. You can connect with people with whom you went to school ; you can send short messages to anyone who views your page through Twitter; you can show your photographs to millions of people through Flickr. There are many more websites that are designed around a specific idea or interest or are general interactive sites. The goal of these sites is to bring people together: to network.

Social networking services, or websites, allow users to create a profile for themselves, upload a picture of themselves or a picture they want to use as their image identity, become "friends" with other users and post information. Privacy controls, when available, allow users to designate who will view their profile or be able to contact them. Users are able to comment on other members' content. Some sites allow you to form your own group within the overall site. As these sites become more sophisticated, additional capabilities are being added, like uploading videos and having bulletin board like discussions. And you can do all this from your cell phone or PDA if you wish.

Social networking websites can also be a powerful marketing tool. If your business involves meetings, clubs, or events, social networks can be a way to extend the involvement of the members beyond specific meeting times. The two-way interaction enabled by these networks creates an unmatched integration between a company and their clients/customers, whereby a company can understand more quickly, and in greater detail, the desires of their clients, and information and resources can be easily and efficiently made available.

In addition to functioning as a marketing tool, social networks have been utilized to transmit information when e-mail or telephone service wasn't available. There was a recent incident where the data center of a major credit card processing company had an electrical fire which disabled the processing, the phones, the computers and thus, any way to communicate with their customers. It was imperative that somehow they advise their customers what was happening, and they chose to post their situation and updates via cell phone on a social networking website, in the hopes that the word would spread. It did. And those customers who were updated knew what to expect and could handle their business transactions accordingly.

As with society at large, when interacting with others, whether in person or on the Internet, care must be taken to be safe. You must guard your personal information, establish your profile considering that others will see it and use it, and post comments just as you would if you were speaking face to face with another individual. It is best to assume that any information you make available via the Internet, whether on a social networking site or otherwise, will be available forever, even if you delete that information from that one particular site. If you use common courtesy, set up a private profile and practice safe information recording and communication, you can have fun, utilize social networking websites and connect with many interesting people.
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