What is Social Networking?

social_media_300x300.jpgFrom a novice's perspective online social networking and social media can sometimes appears like scrabble - a chaotic and almost daunting jumble of tools and options. This is further exacerbated by the ‘geek talk' associated with social networking. Jargon like microblogging, Diigoing, Twitter and Plurk, ping, push and pull with RSS, feeds and tags using aggregators and readers. It's not suprising that some people ask ‘What on earth is everyone talking about? Have I missed a new ‘GlobalSpeak here?’.

This topic provides an overview of Social Networking and Social Media and provides a starting point for your study. Click on the links below to explore further:

  1. Social Networking... it's about Communities and Communication!
  2. Definitions of Social Networking on the Web
  3. So What's Social Media?
  4. Defining Social Media... via the network!
  5. Which Sites, What Tools?
  6. What are the Impacts of Social Networking and Social Media?
  7. Find Out More About Social Networking and Social Media
  8. What's Next?

Activities for this topic

Learners who are completing the Social Networking Course should refer to the Moodle site for more information about the activities provided:

Resources to support this topic:

The following resources have been developed to support this topic:

1. Social Networking... it's about Communities and Communication!

Online Communities Map by xkcd.com

Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Buzz, MySpace and the plethora of social networking tools available are primarily communication services. They provide sources of information about friends, events, and issues and a place to publish and share content. In recent years, we have seen an explosion of these types of sites on the web, with huge numbers of users across various geographic locations and demographic groups engaging in social networks for personal, professional and even educational purposes.

Social Networking sites tend to have some or all of the following characteristics:
  • Tools which make it easy for users to create content
  • Tools which make it easy for users to collaborate with others to create content
  • Subscription Tools like RSS which make it easy to share and distribute content dynamically
  • Identity Tools which allow users to share information, contact details and social connections
  • Tools which make it easy to find other users who share similiar interests
  • Tools for forming and managing online communities.

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2. Definitions of Social Networking on the Web:

Social Networking focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or activities.The focus of social networking sites is on creating connections between users (people) and enabling them to communicate and share.

There are lots of articles which seek to define Social Networking and what it really means for users. Check out the definitions below and reflect on what these tools mean to you:

  • According to wikipedia. Social Networking is "...an online social network made up of individuals (or organizations) called "nodes," which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such asfriendship and kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige'. (Wikipedia: Social Network , accessed 10 June, 2010).
  • Whatis.com says: "Social networking is the practice of expanding the number of one's business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals. While social networking has gone on almost as long as societies themselves have existed, the unparalleled potential of the Internet to promote such connections is only now being fully recognized and exploited, through Web-based groups established for that purpose." (Whatis?.com: Social Networking , accessed 10 June, 2010.)
  • The Wiktionary defines Social Networking as: 1. The interaction between a group of people who share a common interest. 2. Using social contacts to network. 3. Using internet's network groups (such as Facebook and Twitter) to network and communicate using shared interests, related skills, or geographical location between consumers and businesses. (Wikitionary: Social Networking , accessed 10 June, 2010)
  • The South Australian Government's Cybersafety Glossary defines Social Networking as follows: "...offer people new and varied ways to communicate via the Internet, whether through their computer or mobile phone. These sites allow people to easily and simply create their own online page or profile and to construct and display an online network of contacts, often called ‘friends'. Users are able to build a network of connections that they can display as a list of friends. These friends may be offline actual friends or acquaintances, or people they know or have ‘met' only online, and with whom they have no other link. Social networking sites are not limited to messaging, communicating and displaying networks. Nearly all sites allow users to post photos, video and often music on their profiles and share them with others." (SA Cybersafety Glossary, accessed 10 June 2010)

The Commoncraft Team have published some fantastic videos which explore various online sites and resources - including the brilliant overview of Social Networking embedded here.

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3. So What's Social Media?

Social Media describes content that is designed to be disseminated and shared through social networks and social interaction. It is generally shared freely on sites like Youtube, Flickr, blogs and wikis; but is also often embedded in news sites, entertainment channels and event educational websites.

Social Media is often dynamic and includes images, videos, audio and animations. Social Media is having a global impact on the way we publish and share information - with thousands of sites offering tools which allow the average user to create, share and collaborate with others.

Wikipedia defines Social Media as:

"Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media use web-based technologies to transform and broadcast media monologues into social media dialogues. They support the democratization of knowledge and information and transform people from content consumers to content producers."

(Wikipedia: Social Media , accessed 10 June, 2010)

For more information, check out the slideshow by Marta Kangan included here. Although it has a focus on social media in business, it helps to describe what Social Media is and some of its impacts in a humorous way.

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4. Defining Social Media... via the network!

Screenshot of contributions to Mashable's #whatisSM conversation
Defining Social Media is a hard thing to do as the mediums, platforms, tools and techniques people are using to create and share content is ever changing. However, one of the best ways to get a good snapshot of social media and its impacts is via the network!

Recently, Mashable.com held a survey, asking readers to define social media in 140 characters or less - contributing their responses via Twitter and Facebook. There were some fantastic responses - including:

  • Network: Social media is a phenomenon which creates a personalized network for sharing digital content among all people in the cyberspace. - Rohan Aurora
  • Sharing: Social media = Sharing information through conversation. – Scot Chisholm
  • Discovery: Social media is communication, friending, family, media, learning and discovery at one click. – Glenn K. Bolton
  • Collaboration: Ask not what the Internet can do for you, but what you can do with other Internet users. – Jonny Rose
  • Inclusive: It’s a conversation in an instant with anyone, anywhere, anytime that gives control back to the individual & consumer in unpredented ways. – Charles Ubaghs
  • A Radical Shift in Communication: The radical shift from one-way broadcast type communications to dialog and conversation using web based tools. - Joe Buhler
  • Empowering: Social media is an online renaissance empowering people with influence to facilitate conversations around shared ideas. – Mark Blackman
  • Power of the Crowd: Social media is the ability to put out a message and having worldwide responses via email, text, tweet, or whatever form in a matter of seconds. – Lilian Ongelungel

Check out the other contributions and consider what Social Media means to you. Do you share content online? Do your kids or other family members use these tools? How are your students engaging in social media?

(Sourced from Mashable: Top 20 Mashable Reader Responses to “What is Social Media?” , accessed 10 June, 2010).

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5. Which Sites, What Tools?

There are literally thousands of sites and services that could be classed in the Social Networking category. To give you a better sense of the types of platform's and services you'll be exploring, check out the selection below. Some of them are probably familiar.


Wordpress.com - http://wordpress.com

A free blogging platform which allows users to create their own blogs with widgets and RSS. Includes additional services and tools viaubscription fee.
Other Blogging Platforms include: Edublogs, Blogger, Tumblr, Blogster.

Wikispaces.com - http://wikispaces.com

Wikispaces provides a simple to use collaboration tool which can be used to setup easy-to-use wiki sites. Free to use for educators. Dont forget SWSI has its own private label Wikispaces environment - which we are using right now!
Other Wiki Platforms include: Wetpaint, PBworks, Wikidot, GoogleSites.

YouTube - http://youtube.com

The worlds most popular videosharing service which lets users upload, view, and share video clips and provides social tools including comments and embedding. Estimates state that every minute, 24 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube.
Other Video Sharing sites include: Vimeo, Blip.tv, Google Video, Qik.com, Revver .

Don't forget SWSI also hosts our own videosharing site! Click here to check out SWSItube!

Flickr - http://flickr.com

A photosharing / videosharing service which also provides a range of social networking tools including profiles, groups, tagging, commenting and groups. Flickr provides free hosting (limited to 100MB worth of photos per month) or a subscription service for heavier users.
Other Photosharing sites include: Picasa Web Albums, Photobucket, Fotki , Picturetrail, Shutterfly .

Google Reader http://reader.google.com

Google Reader is part of the Google suite of collaboration tools and provides a simple, web-based aggregator, which is capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds online or offline. It allows users to keep track of the websites, blogs and news sites they regularly follow.
Other RSS Reader tools include: Bloglines, Neytvibes, MyYahoo, Feedbucket.

Diigo - http://www.diigo.com/

Diigo is one of the most popular social bookmarking services on the web. It allows users to bookmark tag and share urls, as well as various other handy research tools including groups, sticky notes and annotations.
Other Social Bookmarking tools include: Delicious, CiteULike, Reddit, StumbleUpon.

Yammer - http://www.yammer.com/

Yammer is an example of enterprise social software, which allows users to share short messages with a private network. Unlike Twitter, which is used for broadcasting messages to the public, Yammer is used for private communication within organizations or between organizational members and pre-designated groups.

The NSW Department of Education provides a private network for DET staff. See: https://www.yammer.com/det.nsw.edu.au
Other Microblogging tools include: Twitter, Identica, Google Buzz, FriendFeed, Jaiku.

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/

Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world and currently hosts more than 400million user accounts. It is designed to allow users to connect to others and share status updates, media and other content with their 'friends'. Facebook also enables users to access applications which add functionality to their profiles, including casual gaming apps, news and information apps and sharing apps.
Other Social Networking Platforms include: MySpace, Beebo, Friendster, hi5.com.

Gtalk - http://www.google.com/talk/

Gtalk is a free Windows web-based instant-messaging service, which also includes video and voice-chat tools. It is part of the Google suite of tools and can be used as part of the Gmail interface or as a separate application.
Other Communication tools include: ICQ, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Skype.

Slideshare - http://www.slideshare.net/

Slideshare is a free service that allows users to upload and publish presentations and documents. It allows users to annotate and add voice and video to their slideshows, as well as social tools for embedding, bookmarking and sharing content. Slideshare has thousands of presentations and slide-sets on thousands of topics, but is dominated by the business, marketing and education sectors.
Other Presentation and document tools include: Google Docs, Prezi, Scribd, Zoho Show, Sliderocket.

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6. What are the Impacts of Social Networking and Social Media?

Social Networking and Social Media sites are having a massive impact across almost all sectors - governments, the health sector, the entertainment industry and even educational communities are embracing these technologies and using them in innovative and personalized ways. For example:

  • In the business world, networking sites such as LinkedIn provide access to job advertisements, customers, public recommendations, and have become an extensive virtual rolodex of contacts - the so called 'must-have tools' for success.
  • Governments around the world are exploring the use of social media and social networking tools to make government information more accessible and usable, and to engage in more consultative and participatory activities to ensure that the government engages, consults and collaborates with the general community. Check out the Government 2.0 Taskforce website for more info about the types of activities happening at a federal level in Australia.
  • Brands and businesses use social networking tools to connect with customers and promote products. For example, IBM encourages employess to blog via the official IBM Blogger network, allowing them to share content, promote IBM products and services and connect with their customers. For further information check out the IBMers Blogs Network .
  • Small Businesses are using social networking tools to create brands and customer relationships. For example, check out Threadless.com, a community oriented tshirt company that provides a framework for customers to submit and vote on the tshirt designs that are printed and sold. They use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect with their customers/community. For further info check out a video interview with Bob Nanna from Threadless.com via ReadWriteWeb.com.
  • Entertainment companies and performers use social networking tools to connect to audiences to promote and engage. In some instances these tools are even used to engage audiences in the process of creating storylines and outcomes. For example - check out the ABC's Q&A program website , which provides space for audience members to send twitter messages which are selectively included in the program, ask questions and even post your own videos.

Additionally, individual users are using these tools to self-publish and collaborate and network with others in extremely powerful ways. For example:

  • To create connections with family and friends across the globe - for example Skype provides a free alternative to long distance phone calls and connects people separated by distance via text, audio and video. Skype also enables exchange of files, screensharing and group instant messaging.
  • Individual artists and craftspeople are creating galleries and personalised shopping sites via Etsy - a social commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items. The site also offers opportunties to network and share with other artists and to create customer relationships.
  • Graduates are using LinkedIn to create social networked profiles and resumes which provide them with the opportunity to connect with prospective employers. LinkedIn provides tools to list qualifications and skills, professional associations and contacts and to invite colleagues and previous employers to provide endorsements. For further information check out the LinkedIn Graduates Guide 09.
  • Local communities are using social networking tools and services to support local action. For example - check out the CoolTown Ning Network which is designed to connect communities both locallly and globally, with a focus on inspiring people to crowdsource the kinds of creative places, events, scenes and services that they would like to see in their own communities. It provides tools that allow like-minded people to connect, interact, share and act to change and improve their local communities. The project is also supported by the CoolTown Blog.

Watch the Social Media Revolution 2 (Refresh) video which provides an amazing overview of some of the impacts of social media. This video was published on the 5th May 2010 and has received 387,533 views.

What About in Education?

In education, social networking is having an impact on professional development - with many educators connected to a global community of their peers. It is also used as a communication and delivery tool with students via blogs, wikis and even Facebook. Some educational institutions use social networking tools to manage reputation and as a promotional tool - with many educational institutions sharing videos, podcasts and blog posts which highlight courses, achievements and outcomes.

For further information check out our Networked Learning: Social Networking in Learning and Teaching Resource .

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7. Find Out More About Social Networking and Social Media

Check out the links below for further information on Social Networking and Social Media. If you discover additional links, please feel free to add them here!


Articles and Resources

Social Networking and Social Media Videos

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8. What's Next?

  1. If you are completing the Social Networking Course, visit the Moodle site and complete the activities for Topic 2: Background to Social Networking .
  2. Check out the next section of the SWSI Social Networking Wiki - Networked Learning: Social Networking in Learning and Teaching
  3. If you are exploring Social Networking independently, check out the Social Networking Matrix and select the tools that will be using in your teaching practice.

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