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How Social Networking Works

Making Online Connections

Now that you've found everyone you know from the offline world, it's time to get into the real fun of online social networking, which is browsing for new and interesting people to contact and add to your network.

© Photographer: Aniram | Agency: Dreamstime
Meet new friends with online social-networking sites.

A good place to start is by looking through your friends' connections. On most sites, once someone has been added to your network, you have permission to view the profiles of everyone on their network. When you find an interesting person, you have several options:

  • Send them an invite to join your network
  • Send them a private message through the Web site to introduce yourself and say "Hi."
  • Post a public message in a special place on their profile

After you've exhausted your friend's connections, you can start looking for people who have similar hobbies and interests. Social-networking sites allow people to easily create or join groups built around a theme. The possibilities are literally endless. There are groups for bicycle enthusiasts: bicycle enthusiasts in Belfast, unicycle enthusiasts in Belfast, unicycle enthusiasts in Belfast who like breakfast, and so on.

Most social-networking sites allow you to view at least partial profiles of all of the members of a group. When you find someone interesting, make contact. It's that simple.

Sites like MySpace allow you to browse the entire site for new contacts using criteria such as:

  • Age, sex, location
  • What types of relationships the person is looking for (dating, friends, networking)
  • Smoker, drinker, sexual orientation
  • Only profiles with photos

Many social-networking sites also allow you to search by keyword or tags. Tags are user-created keywords that can be attached to any piece of content -- a photo, a message board post, a video, a Web page -- that allows people to know more about it. On a photo-sharing site like Flickr, for example, it's possible to search by tags such as "cat," "music" and "sunset."

If you find a tagged video, photo or message board post that you like, you can follow the link to the user's profile, find out more about them (and their friends) and even ask them to join your network.

Building a network of friends and contacts is a lot of fun, but that's only the beginning. Read on to find out more about what people do on social-networking sites and why they're so powerful.