Social Networking

If you haven’t heard of Social Networking, you probably shouldn’t even stumble upon this blog entry. If you live in KL and surf the Net and still have not heard of Social Networking, you don’t exist. I assume you are probably a senior citizen who only recently learnt about the internet and your kids have setup an e-mail for you.

The whole world has been talking about Social Networking lately. I can never turn on CNN without hearing about a “tweet” lately. This is getting out of hand. For those of you who have one of multiple user accounts at any of the Social Networking sites, I believe you must be finding it difficult having to update all of them. Wouldn’t it be great if a programmer somewhere in the world that can create a Web 2.0 application that will update all your sites once for all?

Here, I’d like to give the readers an overview and quick comparison of all the sites out there. I am usually not one to jump into the bandwagon of the most popular site unless I get enough harassment invite from a sizeably large amount of friends.

Friendster
I believe it all started with Friendster. I had my first Friendster account over 5 years ago. Almost all my friends had a Friendster account. As soon as I signed up and started looking to grow my contact list, I found a lot of my long lost friends and classmates there. Friendster is still popular in many countries and segments today. Sadly, a lot of the initial Friendster members have now moved on to other sites. Friendster claims to have over 100 million subscribers – but my research shows that majority of them are in countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, etc. In Malaysia, it maintained its popularity amongst students and semi-rural Malays.

Multiply
After the buzz of Friendster started to fizz, people started to move to Multiply. By then, everyone was trying to convince all their Friendster friends to convert, too. Here you begin to see a healthy competition to build the largest “Friend” list. It gets to a ridiculous count when you see some of your friends maintaining over 600+ contacts in their list. How in the world can anybody maintain close friendship with so many people? But Multiply came to offer a little more than what Friendster could. It was essentially a blog / website. You post journal, photos, videos, links and share just about anything you wish. Then you can share it with your friends in your Multiply list or choose to e-mail your posts to friends who are not members.

Multiply claims that “Our 12 million members upload more than 2,500,000 photos and 20,000 videos every day”. Judging by this statement and based on personal experiences, sadly, users tend to only posts pictures and videos on Multiply. Except for the select few die-hard fans who maintain a healthy and long living active blog. Comparatively, Multiply has managed to sustain its fans and stayed true to their service offering. I still maintain my membership and posting. With all the buzz and hype, Multiply has continued to serve my needs as a more serious, family friendly, no-nonsense blog / site for me to keep in touch with friends and family all over the world (and KL).

Plaxo
When I was first invited to Plaxo, I was very sceptical. It’s enough of all these networking sites already. Once I got started with Plaxo, I realised the value of this service and don’t treat it as a Social Networking site at all. Plaxo to me, is a contact update site. There is a downloadable Plaxo toolbar that links to your Ms Outlook and syncs all your contact’s information and keep it updated for you.

Over the years, I’m sure you’ve changed phone numbers, addresses and e-mails many times. So have your contacts and friends. What Plaxo does is that as soon as you change your contact information, it updates all your friends’ Address Book accordingly. This works in automatic sync that you now no longer need to send out mass e-mail or SMS to inform your friends on your change of contact info.

However, due to the current wave of Social Networking being the best showcase of Web 2.0 applications, Plaxo is now looking very much like Facebook. I barely use any of these tools, but I suppose it proves to be quite useful to some people. Additional to making a status update, you can also add a feed of your other Social Networking sites to your profile. It will basically extract your posts and updates from other sites (Flickr, YouTube, Multiply, etc) and updates it in the news feed at your home page on Plaxo.com. A handy tool indeed for you to track all Social Networking updates on one site. Almost as close to the all-in-one site that I mentioned earlier. But this is an update of your friends’ posts and updates and not a single login to update your posts in all sites.

Update : Plaxo currently has moved all their Outlok Sync, Contact Duplicate management and other tools to their Premium paid service.

LinkedIn
I truly like LinkedIn – as a professional Social Networking tool. This site serves only for your business needs. Perfectly niche in its very own unique way, I am glad that they have not succumbed to the pressures of all the hype in the web space. You create a profile and basically create / upload your very own CV online in your profile. Of course, you can choose who can read or view your detailed profile as it is after all your CV online.

The best part of LinkedIn is not only can you upload your CV, you can request for your business contacts that you’ve worked with to write you a recommendation on your job experience. This is far better than the traditional paper CV where you list a couple of references. You can simply direct your potential employer to your LinkedIn profile and they can view what other people have been praising about you. Likewise, you can also write a recommendation for other people that you’ve worked with.

Considering LinkedIn is more business user friendly, you can share your experiences, expertise and thoughts on your skill area. You can start discussions with other like-minded professionals on a business topic. But the best of all, being a Networking site, that’s what it does best. We all know that Business Networking and building your contacts is always great. But instead of traditional face-to-face networking, you can now do it virtually. Browse through your contact’s contacts and requests for an introduction through LinkedIn. You are now not knocking on a stranger’s door (being a vacuum cleaner salesman) but rather networking through a trust-worthy introduction. Perfect!!!

There are definitely other Business Networking sites out there for specific business areas and focus. I cannot possibly list them all. As a professional in your respective areas, you would probably come across most of them on your own.

MySpace
MySpace came out as an extension to the Windows Live series, banking on the success and hype of Social Networking. They came in at a very timely moment where no introduction to Social Networking is needed (people already know what it is and what they can do with it) but with a bit of an artistic twist. Very famous amongst those in the creative field, you see a lot of struggling artist and musicians starting a cult following on their music. Here you start to see the growth of MySpcace phenomenon, Colbie Caillat and several other underground musicians. Until MySpace came to the scene, they now found a great space to promote their work.

Today, you still see a lot of profiles of these musicians but are now gaining popularity among students and the youth segment. Being more creative centric, MySpace has its fair share of die-hard fans. Mostly popular in Europe and America, this has not gained the enormous popularity in Malaysia compared to the other sites. Still, a lot of young 15 year old teens signed up and stayed – purely because majority of their friends or peers are already members.

Facebook
I don’t know anyone who now doesn’t have a Facebook account. It has taken over our lives so much that I now hear people exchanging conversations like “I’ll Facebook you tonight”. WTF? The amazing technology has now taken over our lives. We can’t deny this anymore. I now know what my ex-colleague from 5 years ago is doing every minute by the day through status updates on Facebook. Mind you – I haven’t spoken to her or kept in touch for the last 5 years!!! I feel that with FB, I don’t need to anymore – I know exactly what she eats everyday and how her drive to work is this morning!

The success of all these Social Networking sites, to me, is playing on people’s need to feel important and wanted. Privacy is no longer an issue now. If you notice, Facebook is really filled with advertisements. At the right bar of the pages within FB you see an ad that may be relevant to the topic on that page. With all the profile information FB has gathered from your posting, your likes and dislikes, they sell that valuable information to Advertisers who can now do targeted advertising. Whether you notice it or click on them is a separate topic.

I have lost count on the total amount of subscribers on Facebook. But I do know, that what initially started as a campus site has grown tremendously beyond comprehend. It’s almost like, if you’re not on Facebook, you live in a cave.

Facebook allows users to post a status update on what you’re doing / thinking, post pictures and videos of yourself, share articles / blogs / YouTube videos you find interesting with your friends and loads of creative but weird applications. From vampire bites (never understood what that was all about), to poking your friends (why would you want to do that?) to playing online quizzes (what colour are you? WTF?), to playing online games (I know Texas Hold’em Poker is a big hit, but I want to stress again to all the players – it’s virtual money. You are not a millionaire) to following your favourite idol (be it TV show, Movie, Celebrity, Groups, etc). Every time I see a weird new application on Facebook, I always wonder – what the hell was the creator thinking about when he created this?

Nevertheless, I have to give it to the Facebook team for incredible marketing tactics. Be it massive shout outs on news channels to an amazing success story on word-of-mouth Net marketing. This is truly a business story that we will be talking for years…

Twitter
The latest hype today is Twitter. It’s covered on the news every day. Even the talk show hosts, celebrities and politicians are talking about it. Essentially, Twitter is a self broadcasting site. The whole basis of the site is to allow users to do a shout out based on the simple question “What are you doing today?” Your status updates based on this question is called a “tweet”. People can reply to it as a public comment or send you a personal “tweet”. This simple question is supposed to stir and start a conversation with your “Followers” (read: friends list) and keep in touch or start a discussion.

In my true honest opinion, this is quintessential self ego promotion. Who would want to know what you’re doing the whole day? Apparently, this has worked very well for celebrities and self-promoting millionaires and politicians out there. Barack Obama has a Twitter account during the election. He had thousands of followers along with his e-mail and mobile marketing campaign that partially contributed to his win. Most interestingly, Ashton Kutcher was the first celebrity to hit 1 million followers on Twitter. Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen are among the few talk show hosts who started their own Twitter accounts. Basically to promote their own show, of course.

CNN has recently reported that several billionaires have jumped on to the bandwagon as well. Jack Welsh and Sir Richard Branson have also started “tweeting” and many are disgusted with their cheap attempt of self-promotion through their “tweets”. Personally, I feel that it’s perfectly normal in the Twitter world. You signed up for the account BECAUSE you want to tell the world what you’re doing. THAT IS SELF PROMOTION!!! Mission accomplished.

There are, of course, numerous other Social Networks out there that serves specific niche purposes. For example Picasa and Flickr for photo uploading and management, Digg for articles / blogs tagging, WordPress and Blogger for pure blogging, Names.com, Bebo.com and the list go on. Bottom line, every Social Networking or Web 2.0 sites out there serves a purpose.

If you are a beginner to this and would like to choose one (or two, or three, or four) sites to maintain, it is always good to Google your way to find out which best suits your needs and what you want to do. Every site out there has a specific niche although they might seem to have the same features as the other site. They always have strength in one or two specific areas.

If you don’t feel good exposing your profile information out there on cyber space and wants to keep your privacy to yourself, it’s probably a good thing to maintain it that way. If after researching all you can and yet still feel that all sites give you bits of what you need, then by all means, signup for all of them for different uses. Signup is free – so experiment and play away!