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Social Networking

OK so there’s been a lot of news lately about Myspace:

  • Firebombing!
  • Police stings!
  • Rupert Murdoch!

For those of you unaware (i.e. those of you who aren’t as young and cool as you think you are), Myspace is a ‘social networking’ site that basically reproduces the grown-up web in a microcosm of epileptic-fit inducing flashing backgrounds, pictures of teenagers looking moody (don’t they always?) and enormous lists of favourite bands. The site’s main thrust lies in its blogging features and the ability to build lists of your virtual friends. Aside from this it’s become a very musical place, offering the chance for musicians to upload their stuff and then build a fanbase with the friend list functions.

I’m not too interested in the controversy, its seems to me they’re just a new spin on those old ‘paedophiles lurking in every chatroom’ Daily Mail-isms we’ve all run through a thousand times before. What I do like is keeping tabs on this new breed of community sites – and I’d like to pay homage to three of my favourites.

First up, Flickr. The massive popularity of digital cameras has fuelled all sorts of online photo-album websites, and this is a top-notch example. Flickr gives you plenty of space for uploading pictures, and all the usual titling, captioning and rotating features you’d expect. What makes it a little more interesting and a lot more fun is the tagging aspect. Just as we tag our posts on this blog, so you tag photos on Flickr. Users searching for ‘disturbing animal’ are then able to get such highly useful results as… this. OK, so it all depends on how well people tag their photos, but coupled with the tags is a large community and the ability to post comments on other peoples photos, and it’s extremely interesting to see which of your photos are the most frequently viewed.

Yet another tag-heavy system is 43 things. It’s a kind of networked to-do list, a space to track either your mundane plans for the near future or your desire to become a pirate (154 people want to do that?!). You can post blog-style entries on your progress on any of your things, and you can roam around other people’s lists – at a click of the mouse you can add appropriate someone else’s desire to learn Swahili as one your own aims. One of the nicest things about the site is the idea of ‘cheers’ – if you approve of someone’s thing, you can give them a cheer, they’ll note your approval and then you can thank them via private messages. You then become friends, et voila, Bob’s your uncle, social networking at its finest.

One of my most-visited sites over the last year has been Last.FM, formerly the wonderfully named Audioscrobbler. It’s my favourite because it combines music and statistics – perhaps my favourite things outside of robots and Subway stickers. You install a plug-in for your PC music player of choice (iTunes for me), and then that sneaks about in the background as you listen to music, compiling a list of your favourite artists and tracks on your Last.FM user page. Very interesting to find out just how often I listen to my strangely mis-matched collection of Elvis Costello and Girls Aloud records, but even more interesting to be told who else on the system is listening to a similar mix of music – and based on that, the system then makes recommendations as to stuff I might like. You can even listen to web-streaming radio stations based on your neighbour’s musical tastes. Of course, as with all these new social networking sites, there’s plenty of room for improvement – apparently, I should be listening to a lot more Billy Joel. Hmmm.

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