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Introduction to Social Networking

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The Parts & Pieces of a Social Network

Most social networks can be broken down into a few distinct components. They also tend to share some common terminology. Since not all social networks are the same, they can have a varying numbers of features. Individual social networks can (and have) grown and developed in such a way that they may have their own nuanced sets of terminology, social rules, and etiquette.

Profile: This is the first building block of a social network—a page with biographical information, interests, contact information, a photo (or avatar), and various other pieces of information about you, by you. Usually, various privacy measures can be put into place to limit specific people from accessing certain portions of your profile.

Friends List: After the profile, this is most important part of a social network—the portion of a social network which makes it social. This is a list of people whom you have given access to your profile and they have given you access to theirs. Friends on your friends list can usually be organized into customizable groups (ie, school, work, family). These friends or groups can be added to privacy/access lists that can control which specific friends or groups can see portions of your profile. By default, your friends list is usually visible by visitors to your profile, whether a visitor is already on your friends list or not. This is generally to encourage the social part of social networking.

Friending: Essentially, the word “friend” is treated as a verb in this context. Use of the phrase “friend me” can be a written or verbal request for someone to add you to their friends list. When you “friend” someone, you grant them access to your profile. If that person accepts your “friend request”, you then have access to their profile and will be listed on their friends list. “Friend me on Facebook” is a phrase which may be typically heard when someone asks another person to be listed as mutual friends on the Facebook social networking website.

Status / Status Update: This is another essential component of a social network—being able to post messages featured on your profile for your friends to read and respond to, if they so choose. Some social networks make use of the # “hashtag” character and @ character within status updates in order to “tag” a status update with one or multiple subjects/topics (#sitepoint) or people (@Adam).

Comment / Discussion / Feedback / Wall: This collection of terms describes a profile feature which allows friends to post on each others’ profiles, and make comments on content shared through a profile (ie, images, videos, status updates, etc.).

Messages / Message Box: Unlike public or friends-only comment exchanges, this is usually a private exchange between listed recipients, much in a similar fashion to that of email. However, while email can be sent to any email account regardless of the provider, these messages are restricted to members of the social network being used.

Like / Unlike: Most prominently used on the Facebook social networking website, the “like” feature allows users to give positive feedback on content that was posted or add interests/pages to their profile. Users can see who and how many “liked” a particular piece of content. An “unlike” doesn’t typically give negative feedback; rather, it typically removes the positive feedback given by a “like”.

Group/Fan Page: On some social networks, people can make profile pages for companies, organizations, bands, products, or anything else that isn’t specifically a self-made personal profile. Some types of group/fan pages have special features that normal personal profiles don’t always have. Embedded video or audio players for media-related pages (such as for musicians or filmmakers) are common; some pages include company job listings; and some business pages list sales or discount deals from their storefront.

Follow: While people can “like” content, the term “follow” is commonly used to express similar positive feedback for a group/fan page. Followers of a page can receive alerts in their message box or news feed when these pages post status updates or add content.

Notes / Blog: Sometimes the character length limit of status updates can be constraining, so some social networks allow their users to post larger blocks of text on a less prominent section of their profile.

Social Media: On many social networks, users have the option to share media and links to media. Media by itself can usually be in the form of video, audio, or images. When media is combined with a social component, there are additional forms of content which are included, such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, live video streaming, social bookmarking, and social news. What makes every one of these examples social is that the initial release of content always allows the consumers of those forms of media to interact with the producers of the content. A large part of social networking is being able to share links, photos, and videos with other users and being able to “tag” (or label) their friends in said photos and videos. While social media isn’t the primary feature of a social network, there are websites which do focus on and specialize in the different types of social media. Most of these dedicated social media websites include permission controls which allow users to share media publically, for registered users only, or just with the people on their friends list.

Friends Updates / Network Updates / News Feed: This is usually a page which shows any profile updates, changes, likes, status updates, new content postings, or friend confirmations made by groups you are following or people on your friends list. This news/update page is usually intended to increase engagement and encourage participation with people on your friends list within the social network. A common complaint for this page is that it can sometimes share too much real-time information. While some social networks allow you to control what types of updates (likes, status updates, etc.) your friends can see about you on their news/update pages, not all social networks have comprehensive privacy filtering controls to limit the information that appears.

Lastly, there are additional parts of social networks which don’t have unusual terminology attributed to them, but can still be counted among the other significant features of some social networks:

  • Some social networks allow their users to greatly customize their profile page by changing colors and layouts, while others do not.
  • The “poke” feature on some social networks allows users to “poke” (or wave to) their friends.
  • Some social networks allow 3rd-parties to develop add-on applications for user profiles, such as quizzes or games.
  • Live chat and group chat features are available on some social networks.
  • Events calendars are usually available where users can typically RSVP or like/follow. Some events are actual real-world gatherings, while others can be (mostly) online holidays like Pi Day on 3/14/15 at 9:26:54 (π = 3.141592654) or “Talk Like a Pirate Day” on September 19th.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all social networks are made equal. Like any social group, social networks can focus on specific aspects of life in order to make them unique. Some even use specific terminology which is distinct from other generalized social networks. For instance, professional or business-oriented social networks tend to use the word “colleagues” in place of “friends”.