From the Actrix Online Informer May 2012
Alternatives to Facebook
by Rob Zorn
In the last couple of years, public perception of Facebook has really changed. While many still treasure it as their social lifeline, increasing amounts of people are distancing themselves from the social-media goliath. The greatest reason more people are leaving Facebook seems to be privacy, or a lack of it. Facebook has been copping some serious flack for its dictator-like privacy policies which give it ownership of all your information, and in some cases, risk passing that information on to other companies.
But while many are leaving social media altogether, others are moving to alternatives. This month we're going to look at alternatives to Facebook.
It is important to note that social networking was around long before Facebook. The reason Facebook and social networking are almost synonymous today is because Facebook got it right. The features they offered were what people wanted, so people flocked to the service and made it the popular site it is today. Accordingly, the majority of social networking sites still around have generally based themselves on Facebook, including as many similar features as they can without breaking copyright. So it will be unusual (with exceptions) if any of the alternative sites in this article contain something Facebook doesn't, or hasn't had before.
What's different about these other sites is their focus, and how they control the information you upload.
A few years ago, when Facebook's position as the royal party of social networking seemed unassailable, Google launched its own social network, Google Plus (or Google+). Despite being in an invite-only testing phase, it amassed over 25 million users in its first month.
Not one to do things by halves, Google had built its own network from the ground up. It took everything good about Facebook, combined it with some key elements from other networks and built a social hub of interaction that had Facebook scared.
At the heart of Google Plus is 'Circles', the idea that you can organise friends, family, acquaintances and whoever else into different circles, depending on how you want to interact with them. This allows you to view and publish posts with whichever group you wish.
An acronym for "Blog early, blog often", Bebo was launched in 2005 and is enjoying a significant following. Bebo's main focus is the younger demographic of social networkers, with features that reflect their audience.
Of note is the fact that the majority of Bebo's features are run by third-party clients. For example, their chat service is run by Windows Live, their video service by AOL and Skype, and their music sharing by Last.fm.
Wordpress.com is a blogging site that lets users set-up and manage multiple blogs, as well as choosing to follow blogs by others. The site is well organised and very easy to use.
With so many format options available, numerous users have turned their Wordpress blogs into functioning websites. Wordpress.com also has a plethora of plug-ins, small packets of software which let you tinker with every aspect of the site, from design to special features.
It is important to note the distinction between Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org. The former is the free online service, while the latter is a paid service that allows you to download the software and run your blog from your own personal server. More plug-ins and features are available to users of the Wordpress.com.
LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site. As well as being a handy place for career development and networking, LinkedIn is also a thriving community of entrepreneurs and business folk.
You sign up and fill out your profile as much as you can – jobs you have had in the past, details of your qualifications, skills, interests and knowledge, links to your website, blog and other online profiles.
You can search for people to connect with by name or organisation, or have LinkedIn scan your email account for people you are likely to know. LinkedIn differs from other online networks in that is a bit stricter about how you connect with other people. You must state how you know a person before you are able to connect with them.
One of the most useful elements of LinkedIn are the groups, which are based on subjects and issues, or on a geographical basis. The latter can be particularly handy especially if you would like to find out what business people locally think about an issue – just request to join the group and post your questions.
Others...These are just a few of the more popular social networks out there, but there are so many more. Here's a small list of some other networks with rather interesting focuses (click the titles to visit the sites).
Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly. You download and install the free software which allows you to completely format your own profile. You can then use the program to reach out and connect with other Diaspora users.
Diaspora gives you complete control over all the information you include in your account. Aware of the flack Facebook has taken recently, the creators of Diaspora came out saying, "Our distributed design means no big corporation will ever control Diaspora. Diaspora will never sell your social life to advertisers, and you won't have to conform to someone's arbitrary rules or look over your shoulder before you speak."
Snabbo is a free social network just for the Baby Boomer generation. The name "Snabbo" is an acronym for Social Network Allowing Baby Boomers Only. Driven by nostalgia for the "good old days", members are encouraged to use a photograph taken any time during the 1940's through the 1980's as their profile page picture. The more information members provide about their past, the more likely someone can rediscover them. Snabbo's "Find Friends" feature is able to successfully search for a person even if all you can remember is their nickname when you knew them in school.
Habbo is a social networking site for teenagers with 200 million users. Habbo was previously called Habbo Hotel, and mimics a virtual hotel which users enter. They can chat in chat rooms that are mocked up to be cinemas, restaurants and dance clubs, with virtual bots bringing you drinks and serving your table.
This social network aims to be to Muslims what Facebook is to others – but without all that is considered "haram" or forbidden in Islam, such as gambling and alcohol advertisements, pornography or sexy images.
Salamworld is still in development, but is aiming to be operational in July 2012. The network aims for 50 million users within three years.
Ning and SocialGo take a far different approach to social networking, allowing you to create your own social networks, essentially making them both a social network of social networks. Part of the beauty of these is that you can create and discover social networks based on your interests.
The idea is similar to Facebook's Groups, although Ning gives you more control over your network.
SocialGo is a little more complex. Rather than populating an existing network with you profile, as is the case with most social networks, your profile becomes the network, allowing you to create a central hub for a particular theme or interest that others can connect their profiles to. Organisations and business can even integrate its social networking features (like video chat or instant messaging) into a already existing website.
Although there is an entry-level free network option, SocialGo's premium user created network is priced at $25 a month.
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