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Social Networks

Whether looking for a long, lost family member or seeking a good place to share books, social networks have become a popular way to connect with others. Since the advent of Web 2.0, many tools are available to provide this dynamic environment for those seeking social interaction. Generally social networks have the following characteristics:

checkdo itRead Want To Be My “Friend”? What You Need To Know About Social Technologies (PDF) by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson in Teacher Librarian (June 2006).

Although you may associate social networks with dating or leisure activities, they are increasingly used by researchers and businesses as a tool for idea generation and problem-solving. For instance, they're used as part of a movement toward "crowd-sourcing." According to Jeff Howe (June 2006) in Wired Magazine, "Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D." Companies like Fluevog Shoes and Zazzle are using this approach to gather ideas and help sell ideas. Howe has identified five rules for this new labor pool:

  1. The crowd is dispersed
  2. The crowd has a short attention span
  3. The crowd is full of specialists
  4. The crowd produces mostly crap
  5. The crowd finds the best stuff

Features of Virtual Communities

As you explore virtual communities, you'll notice that although many use the same basic social technologies, they are applied differently to meet particular needs. These online communities are often focused around three elements:

Audience. Most social networks are geared to a particular audience. For example, Second Life has entirely different websites for teen and adult users. Some communities are focused on professions such as librarianship, education, or law.

Theme. Look for the goal of the social interaction. Some networks are designed for dating, while others are intended for sharing or adventure. Although some virtual communities are designed to meet general needs, many are focused on a particular theme such as music or books.

Structure. Although rooted in social technologies, the user interface may vary. For example, social network are generally text-driven providing search tools, invitations to join, and standard navigation and communication tools. On the other hand, 3D worlds provide visual tools for exploration and navigation. Rather than typing or choosing from options, users walk, fly, and physically move objects.

Watch a video about Chicago's Digital Youth Network. It uses a closed social network as a way for young people to share what they're doing inside and outside school.



Let's explore general social networks, then examine some specifics.

"Let's Be Friends"

Social network for the general public such as Facebook smile. Keep in mind that although they provide safety tips and a mechanism to report inappropriate content, anyone can "be" anyone and post anything they wish. Also, the advertising can be very distracting. Facebook is most popular with those who want to interact with friends. Most social networks have group spaces or areas where like minded people can get together.

checkWatch Social Networking in Plain English by Common Craft from YouTube.

do itRead to 100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom to explore ideas for integrating Facebook into learning.

Here are a few library-oriented examples at Facebook:

Some libraries have created areas in MySpace such as Hennepin County Library and the Library Loft. However many more libraries have chosen Facebook. Here are a few libraries on Facebook:

Learning in Social Networks. Some students use these social networks as an area for making learning connections. For example, it's a place learners can get together and study or hold a discussion. It's also a place for making professional contacts. Unfortunately the clutter and distractions don't always make it the best environment to focus on learning. As a result, an increasing number of users are seeking other virtual spaces geared to more specific needs such as study or discussion. Although young children sometimes register on these sites, most of these services do not allow children under the age of 13.

Instead, use a tool specifically designed for young people. Edmodo can be used by teachers and libraries who would like to work with groups of students in a closed social networking environment. An adult sets up the space and invites students. Each student receives a code to enter the group. It's an effective, free service.

A few social networks are being designed specifically for educational purposes.The italki project focuses on language learning.

Other Social Networks. Although Facebook is best known, there are dozens of other popular "friendship-type" social networks.

Build Your Own. There are a number of tools to help you create your own social network.

"Let's Read"

Social networks are adding a new dimension to the library book club. Think about how you could start or expand your existing book club using these resources. Go to Booklist Online's Book Group Buzz blog for lots of ideas for books and managing groups.

GoodReads is one of the most popular social networks for online book clubs. They are easy to set up and use.

LibraryThing smileis a great example of a focused, social community. Like Facebook, it's based on a user profile. However instead of being geared to the general public, the focus is on people who want to share their personal libraries. Members catalog their books and/or media, share reviews, hold discussions, and connect with others holding similar interests. The website has the atmosphere of community where members share resources and reviews, seek out others who share their interests, discuss their ideas.

Like other social networks, LibraryThing provides a way for users to establish and participate in groups and discussions. If you're reading this page as part of a graduate course, you'll be using the SLIS-Indy group.

Other Book Groups

Learning in LibraryThing. Want to learn more about a particular genre? Want to find others who share a passion for books about food? Want to read reviews of new children's books? LibraryThing is the place to go. You can spend hours looking at the book collections of others and finding books you'll want to read.

do itJoin LibraryThing. It's great fun and you can enter a couple hundred books for free. Check out the SLIS-INDY group area.

Other Focused Social Communities. There are many other focused social communities particularly in the area of libraries and education.

Social Networking Issues

Recently, social networks have come under fire because of concerns regarding child predators. However research shows that the threat may be over blow.

checkRead YALSA's document titled Teens and Social Networking in the School and Public Library (PDF version). This article explains the concerns and what schools and librarians need to do to guide young people in responsible use of social networks.

checkRead Online Safety Report Discourages Scare Tactics.

arrowGo to the Issues section of this course for more information about this issue.

Social networks come and go depending on funding and advertising. People are increasingly looking for open source solutions.


Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the arrow means an internal linkLearning Spaces: Social Technology: MUVE page.

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