There comes a time in every person's life when they must choose whether to be social or not. This used to mean going to a school disco, or asking someone out or chatting up a stranger. Then the computer overlords took over, and the term “social” gained a whole new meaning.
Being social became all about whether you had embraced email, instant messaging, commenting on blogs – and of course most importantly, the social networks themselves. These have evolved considerably over the years, and there are now a number which are definitely worth joining. Consider signing up for the eight services we mention here – if you haven’t already, that is…
First called a micro-blogging service, sometimes even thought of as the "SMS of the Internet," Twitter has evolved into much more than either of those. It's more like a never-ending conversation between a couple of hundred million users, all in 140-character long bite-sized chunks.
What do we need to say about Facebook that hasn't been said? If you're not one of the billion plus people using it across the globe, you probably don't have that many friends. (Or you don't have a computer or smartphone, and probably aren't even reading this).
Maybe not a network in and of itself, Quora the “online knowledge market” is a like a niche network for know-it-alls. It also happens to play nicely with the big names like Facebook and Twitter. When you sign up, you're asked to follow certain topics, making you instantly privy to some of the thousands of aggregated question topics that have multiple answers – some collaborated on, some voted for, and almost all by vetted members with the credentials to reply. Ask your own question and Quora works to anticipate your needs. Then you can follow the people who have the answers, social network style.
This one falls under the moniker of "social cataloguing" according to Wikipedia. Goodreads is all about the books – you list what you own and have read, and your friends do the same. You can even scan them in via barcode using your iPhone. From there, you get and give recommendations, talk about the tomes, and overall feel like you've joined the world's biggest online book club.
While most people turn to Facebook, the pros turn to LinkedIn. Known as the place to go to network with co-workers and even potential bosses, LinkedIn stresses adult needs like job hunt networking, recommendations from colleagues, and naturally there's a front page of updates from all your connections (don't call them friends, even if they are).
If local businesses had their own social network, it would probably be Yelp. Okay, it is Yelp, but naturally it's driven by consumers. They do the hard work: Reviewing places to eat, shop, sleep, and play. If you narrow your search down geographically to where you live or visit, you'll soon see the best places those locations have to offer. Then you can offer your own take on them as well.
You can access most social networks from any device, even a desktop computer, but Foursquare is squarely mobile and meant for the smartphone. It lets you "check-in" to tell people where you are. You can use it to track where your friends are, and of course, you can attempt to become the “Mayor” of your more frequented stops with new badges and points each time you check-in.
You won't find a social network in and of itself at Ning – this is where people go to create private social networks. The service isn’t free, but you can have a two week trial before you buy. Plans start at £18 per month for 1000 members, rising to £75 per month for a 100,000-strong network. If you want a little Facebook-esque spot for your followers, customers, fans, or friends, Ning is the place to create your network.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you can find a comprehensive list of links on how to effectively use the various social media in our article on the social media conundrum.