The rise of social networking has been decried by several observers for decreasing sociability and actual face time. The fact is social websites provide a convenient and easy method to not only communicate with old friends but also make communications more personal. Instead of a letter once a month, it is possible to continue the relationship at the same level of intensity possible for next-door neighbors.
Of course, keeping old friends is only part of the picture. Many people have interests that are not shared by individuals in their geographic proximity. This is especially common in rural areas. Even in densely populated areas, it can be difficult to locate those who share your interests or hobbies. Social networking provides a solution to these problems, provided you are aware of the possibilities.
Several websites are devoted to helping groups of friends stay in touch, and the majority of these are completely free. They tend to focus on one type of sharing, a geographic area, or a particular culture. Google+ is a general purpose site used by people around the world, and it has a large number of features without the problems with page loading experienced with MySpace.
It makes sense to have a diverse number of accounts for keeping up with close friends. Flickr lets you create photo albums, share them with others, and comment. Flixster does the same for video. Stickam allows users to live stream video to a a single person, specified group, or the anyone who happens across the link. GoodReads is a way for bibliophiles to keep in touch by sharing and commenting on their reading selections.
Any category of information you want to share with a friend is likely a specific target of a social networking site. The best part about using many sites is the lack of worry about losing contact should one site go down for some reason.
Making friends can be a difficult prospect, because it is not always easy to find those who share similar backgrounds, interests, or hobbies. A number of websites have stepped in to help with the problem. One of the highest ranked is Meetup. This site is designed to help you find groups of people with desired qualities and facilitate face-to-face meetings. General usage is free, but you will need an account for establishing your own groups.
Other websites are tailored to particular demographics. Cafemom is a just for mom’s meeting place, and you can find friends with every conceivable interest or similarity, or use it to learn about specific topics, such as research on discipline, work opportunities for stay-at-home moms, and gardening. Other popular demographic and interest specific site include, but are by no means limited to:
- Livemocha for language learners
- Indenti.ca for internet freedom hacktivists
- DeviantART for artists of all types to share their work
- Couchsurfing for travelers who enjoy staying with local residents and/or hosting other travelers
- LinkedIn for professional networkers
- WiserEarth for the environmental and social justice crowd
The list of websites catering to specific interests and demographics goes on and on. The only real problem posed here is one of finding the right mix of sites to satisfy your needs. In-person relationships will always be an important part of life. Social networking sites can cause people to forget this importance, but they can just as easily help in finding and keeping friends.