As our Work Literacy Ning site (2008) is in danger of getting bumped off the Net due to Ning’s new pricing policy, I will post some of the key articles here so we don’t lose them. Thanks again to Michele Martin for writing a significant portion of this.
Introduction to Social Networking
Online social networks facilitate connections between people based on shared interests, values, membership in particular groups (i.e., friends, professional colleagues), etc. They make it easier for people to find and communicate with individuals who are in their networks using the Web as the interface.
By some definitions, just about all Web 2.0 tools are a form of social networking, but for this module we’re going to focus on “ego-centric” social networks, those that are focused on individuals, as opposed to networks that build up around objects, such as Delicious, Flickr, Slideshare, etc. (Note you can learn more about the concept of ego-centric vs object-centric networks here ).
There are several different online social networks, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on the three that tend to be used the most by learning professionals–Facebook, LinkedIn and Ning. Each of these networks has its own unique style, functionality and patterns of usage. You will also find that different people are active in these different networks.
LinkedIn is primarily a professional network, designed to facilitate linkages between people who are wanting to connect for work-related purposes. It is more “buttoned-down” than Facebook with a more formal culture of relationships and connections. It is also the network of choice for most professionals.
Because LinkedIn is designed for professional networking, there’s a greater emphasis on building a reputation and connecting to employment and business opportunities. LinkedIn Questions and Answers is a way for people to ask questions and receive expert advice. Answers can be rated and people who do this well can improve their LinkedIn reputation. There are also employment listings and an ability to receive recommendations from your connections that then become part of your profile. You can also create and join groups.
Facebook was originally developed for college students to connect, so it has a more informal, social air than you find on LinkedIn. Now open to anyone, you will still find that Facebook is the preferred network for Millenials who see the encroachment of Boomers and, to a lesser extent, Gen X into the network as cause for some alarm.
Facebook combines the personal and the professional. Members can play games, join groups, share photos, and send each other virtual “gifts.” This is the network where you’re most likely to see both pictures of someone’s weekend activities, as well as a link to their online portfolio or professional website. Many companies are using Facebook as a recruitment tool for Gen Y, while college and university professors are exploring it’s use for their classes.
Ning is what’s referred to as a “white label” network–anyone can use the Ning platform to create their own social network related to a particular topic or area of interest. We are operating this class on the Ning platform [the description of how we used Ning still pertains to other social networking platforms such as Elgg or Grou.ps].
As a learning professional, you will want to think of Ning in two ways. First, there are a number of Ning networks related to various topics of interest to learning professionals that you could join. In addition, because Ning allows you to create your own network from scratch, you can also use it to facilitate learning events or activities. Therefore Ning offers opportunities for you to be both a joiner/collector and a creator.
One great advantage of Ning for learning is that it allows you set up your own private space that can only be accessed by members. It also offers great functionality, including allowing members to write blogs and engage in forum discussions.
A short message on owning your data
Open source gives you something extra though, and that is the ability to take the whole application, source code and all, and move it or even modify it. For instance, this website is on WordPress, an open source blogging platform. If I am not satisfied with my host, I can take the whole application and set it up somewhere else. I cannot do that with Gmail or Skype or Ning. Therefore, I own my data and the application that makes my data available to my readers. With almost 2,000 posts on this blog, these data are becoming quite important to me as my knowledge base. The decision to use an OS system as well as an OS database gives me a certain amount of flexibility, evidenced by my switch from Drupal to WordPress. My only costs were labour. I could not have taken my data out of a proprietary system (like Ning) as easily.
More information on owning your data on this site.
Common Features of Social Networks
The ability to create a Profile page–this is your main “home” on the network. Different networks offer varying abilities to personalize your page in terms of look and feel. They may also differ in terms of the types of information you would include, such as name, location, education, etc. Facebook, for example, asks for your relationship status (because it’s more “social”), while on LinkedIn, which is primarily for professional use, does not.
A way to find and link to “friends” or connections–The purpose of a network is connections, so facilitating a members’ ability to find and connect to other people is important. Each network offers different types of search capabilities and once you’ve located a potential friend, you must send an “invitation” to invite them into your personal network.
Privacy Controls–In most networks, your ability to access more detailed information about a person is based on their status as one of your connections; “friends” can see much more information than those who are not your “friends.” You can control who is actually in your personal network by effectively managing who you invite into your network and whose invitations you accept.
The ability to send public and private messages–In Ning and Facebook, you can communicate with your connections either by sending a private message or “writing on their wall.” On LinkedIn, you communicate via person-to-person messages. Ning also provides Forums where members can interact with one another on specific topics (you’re reading this in one of the Ning forums).
Ability to share various digital objects and information–Both Ning and Facebook allow members to share various online items, including photos, videos and RSS feeds. LinkedIn offers some ability to share links, although it’s multimedia capacities are nothing like what you find on Facebook or Ning.
NOTE: Elgg will soon be offering a hosted and open source alternative to Ning.
As in real life, the value of an online social network lies in the people. While you can have some fun playing around with some of a network’s online functionality, if you don’t have the right people in your network, it will be a waste. Here are some good resources on building a social network: