Week 8 of Imperial Library's Learning 2.0 programme was 'Social Networking Sites', encompassing Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Ning, LinkedIn, etc.
I've got a LinkedIn account but I don't tend to use it for 'social networking', and more really as a 'contacts' list – while some people clearly use LinkedIn to 'work' their business contacts, I can't say that I've ever been terribly good at this.
Facebook is more my thing, and I do use it to keep in touch with quite a few friends and family. I do find that Facebook raises the issue of how I mix my professional and personal life – whereas on LinkedIn everyone is one there as a 'professional contact' (even those people who are also friends), in Facebook I have some professional contacts, and some personal contacts. Although it hasn't happened yet, there is a clearly a risk that in the future there could be a conflict between how I want to present myself professionally, and how I do personally – I'm not sure I'd want my boss (not singling out my current boss) to be my 'Friend' on Facebook.
I've not got a MySpace account, but have to admit when I looked at some MySpace pages quite a while ago I was completely put off by the busy-ness of the pages – it felt a lot 'younger' than Facebook (which I think it probably is). I know it has a good reputation for music as well, but again I haven't really explored it that much. Bebo I did look at ages ago, but can't remember if I setup an account or not!
Ning is a bit different to the others in that it is a social networking platform, which hosts a variety of social networks. In a sense it is more a toolset which can be used to provide social networking functions. I've used it as a 'user' as a member of http://library20.ning.com/ and also to contribute to discussion of the JISC TILE project.
A few months ago, I would have said that Facebook was the SN I used most. However, then I started to use 'Twitter'. Strictly Twitter is, I guess, a 'microblogging' service rather than an SN. Microblogging is where you post very brief updates, frequently, to the web. With Twitter, the length of 'posts' (or Tweets) is limited to 140 characters – because it was designed to work with SMS on mobile phones, and this is the maximum size of a single text. Essentially you can think of it as a stream of Facebook 'status updates' (and I actually have it so everytime I tweet, it automatically updates my Facebook status with the same text) – in a previous post I described it as Facebook statuses without the rest of Facebook.
The attraction of Twitter is quite hard to pin down. In general people are sharing trivia, but I guess the truth is that 'sharing trivia' is what we do a lot of time face-to-face – where we went on holiday, what the weather is like, what we are doing this weekend etc. and I think it is amazing the way that we build relationships through sharing small details – both in real life, and online. I also like the way with Twitter that relationships aren't "mutual" – I can 'follow' someone, and they don't have to follow you back if they don't want – and vice versa. You can see my tweets on the lefthand side of this blog (or at http://twitter.com/ostephens) and judge for yourself.
I think that the web can be an excellent communications platform, and SNs and services like Twitter go along way to realising that potential.