You have probably heard the term "social network." You may have even used it yourself a few times. But are you really comfortable with what a social network is? If yes, great! You are ahead of the curve. If your answer was no, though, read on.
An online social network is a virtual community where people gather to share interests, find new ones or build relationships. What makes online social networks unique and valuable, especially to teens, is the ease with which users can make new connections through their extended network of friends. The convenience and fun of quickly connecting with other people -- and large numbers of them, if you like -- has made online social networking one of the most popular activities on the Internet today.
Here are some of the things teens like to do once they've joined a social network:
- Meet new people: Once two users have connected, it's easy for them to view each others' list of friends, and invite those people to be their friends in turn.
- Post messages: Sort of like e-mail, users can post messages on a friend's "profile page." Often these messages are posted publicly for others to read.
- Share photos: It's super easy to upload photos to a profile page and broadcast them to friends.
- Chat or Instant Message: Social networking sites are increasingly offering tools for users to chat in real-time in the website, rather than using the more traditional, external messaging programs.
Now that you have, I hope, a basic understanding of what social networking is all about, here is a short list of the more popular sites out there. I suggest you spend some time exploring these sites, and even sign up and create your own profile page. Doing so will give you a good feel for how these sites are used by tweens, teens and 20-somethings, which collectively generate the heaviest usage (unsurprisingly) on social networking sites.