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1. Social Networking Basics

Social networking is based on a certain structure that allow people to both express their individuality and meet people with similar interests. This structure includes having profiles, friends, blog posts, widgets, and usually something unique to that particular social networking website -- such as the ability to 'poke' people onFacebook or high-five someone on Hi5.

Profile. This is where you tell the world about yourself. Profiles contain basic information, like where you live and how old you are, and personality questions, like who's your favorite actor and what's your favorite book. Social networks dedicated to a special theme like music or movies might ask questions related to that theme.

Friends. Friends are trusted members of the site that are allowed to post comments on your profile or send you private messages. You can also keep tabs on how your friends are using social networking, such as when they post a new picture or update their profile. Friends are the heart and soul of social networking. It should be noted that not all social networks refer to them as 'friends' -- LinkedIn refers to them as 'connections -- but all social networks have a way to designate members as trusted.

Groups. Most social networks use groups to help you find people with similar interests or engage in discussions on certain topics. A group can be anything from "Johnson High Class of '98" to "People Who Like Books" to "Doors Fans". They are both a way to connect with like-minded people and a way to identify your interests. Sometimes, groups are called by other names, such as the 'networks' on Facebook.

Online Social Networks Are Your Home on the Web

The difficulty most people have in understanding online social networking is that they view websites as having a specific purpose, like CNN.comfor news and YouTube.com for videos andFlickr.com for photos. But social networks likeMySpace and Facebook don't provide a specific use so much as a they provide you with a home on the web.

Think of e-mail as a P.O. box on the web. A P.O. box is a very handy way of receiving letters from people, but you aren't going to invite people to your P.O. box to look at your family photo albums. You are going to invite them over to your home.

That is what an online social network provides: a small piece of the web that you can call your own. You can use it to keep up with a blog, to let your friends and family know what you are up to, and even to share photos from your recent vacation.

And because a social network does most of the heavy lifting for you, it is much easier to maintain 

Online Social Networks Are Good For Friends and Family

The great thing about online social networking is that it provides an easy way to keep up with friends and family. If you live a busy life, it can be difficult to keep in touch with everyone and still get everything done that needs your attention. Online social networking allows you to add people as friends so that you can easily keep in touch with them.

They can also provide a great destination for families to keep in touch, share information and photographs, and even plan family reunions or get togethers. Social networks such asMyFamily.com are designed with this specific purpose in mind. You can even create your own social network using Ning and use this to keep in touch with your family. (Sound hard? It's really easier than it sounds!)

Online Social Networks Are Good For Business

Social networking has always been a great business asset. Just think back to the number of jobs and business opportunities you learned about from friends and colleagues. And online social networking is no different. Social networks like LinkedIn are designed around the business aspects of social networking and are being used more and more by HR departments to locate talented employees.

Social networks are also at the core of something called "social media marketing." This is a way of marketing products through social media sites like social networks, blogs, widgets and other social websites. If you run your own business, or if you just sell a few odds and ends on eBay every once in a while, having a social network presence can help out.

Online Social Networks Are Good For Having Fun

Let's not leave out the fun factor. Entertainment has always been at the core of the social networking experience, and as social networks become more sophisticated, there is a huge potential for having fun while socially networking.

Facebook is quickly becoming the platform of choice for casual gaming. With the ability to easily manage having a chess match with a friend even if they live halfway across the world, it is easy to see why Facebook games are so popular.

But having fun on social networks isn't limited to just games. Niche social networks can match your interests with social networking. Love movies? Try out Flixster and play the never-ending trivia game. Like music? Let Last.FM help you discover new bands similar to the music you like. A sports nut? FanIQ will let you show the world just how much you know about sports.

Online Social Networks And You

Whether you are looking for a way to stay connected with your family, or you are looking for a way to put your comprehensive knowledge of famous movie quotes to good use, online social networking can be a great choice.