Social networks: A primer

From MySpace to Facebook and now Twitter, social networking is evolving so fast it is hard to keep up. breaks down the hype.

By: Andrea Iseman

With everything from the job search to internal corporate communications being done over the Internet, it seems like everyone who’s anyone has a professional profile on the web. When done right, online profiles can help you build a professional network. Here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular social networks on the web:


Founded in 2004, Facebook now has more than 200 million active users, and is growing increasingly popular all over the world, from Canada and the United States to Asia and beyond. Originally created as a way for Harvard University students to communicate with each other, Facebook has expanded to include non-students from all over the world. In fact, according to Facebook statistics, the fastest growing demographic is users 35 and older.

Pros: With millions of people using Facebook, you will find that you know more people than you thought. It is also a free way to post pictures and video for family and friends to see. The recent addition of the chat feature means you can talk in real time with your friends and family.

Cons: There are concerns over privacy and who owns the content you post. Since Facebook’s users range from family and friends to acquaintances and coworkers, you need to be aware of what you are posting and to whom you give access. It can also be a new set of etiquette rules to navigate as the choice of who to friend and who to reject becomes complicated. (Ready to accept a friend request from that girl who bullied you in tenth grade?)


Before Facebook, there was MySpace, which is sometimes credited with creating widespread interest in social networking. In early 2004 it made the move from a virtual storage site to a site where users can communicate with anyone they want and create personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music, and videos. Matchmakers can even connect people they know with other friends in hopes of stirring up potential love connections, and families can also map their family tree.

Pros: You can add music directly to your profile. Unlike Facebook, people can see the music all the time, as opposed to just in a feed that gradually disappears as you add new content. You can also share photos, interests and journals with your network of friends. Users also have the control to customize their profile any way they want, which means techies out there can use HTML codes to create a unique page.

Cons: It is losing popularity, especially now that Facebook has heated up. As well, issues of privacy and security continue to pop up as people often use it to hook up with other people who may lie about who they are, a risk on any social network.


Flickr is a free photo-sharing website, where you can also host videos, and chat with other people in the online community.

Pros: Space for an essentially limitless supply of photos. The service is also good for those who are camera happy, because it allows account holders to grant permission to people to organize their content for them. Your family and friends can also add comments, notes and tags to photos. The service is also very user-friendly because you can upload content from any device, whether it is a cell phone, computer or camera.

Cons: Photo sharing can sometimes mean photo thieving. There is the real possibility people can take your photos and use them without your permission.


Skype is free software that allows you to make video and voice calls without charge to other people over the Internet.

Pros: It is free long distance — need we say more? You can communicate with anyone in the world, send instant messages and share files with other users. You can even make calls to landlines and cell phones for a small fee.

Cons: If you want to talk online you have to have a headset and microphone, and sometimes voices can be delayed. They also don’t sound the same as talking to a real live person.


Twitter has been dubbed one of the fastest growing phenomena on the Internet by the New York Times. Anyone from Jane Fonda and Oprah to your neighbour has an account.

Pros: It is an easy and fast way to let people know what you are doing, while you are doing it, from anywhere at anytime. Software is available for both the Blackberry and the iPhone.

Cons: Because you are limited to only 140 characters, it can make it hard to get your point across. “Tweets” are not archived, so there is no permanent record of your thoughts and conversations.

Most of the sites that offer social networking as their main focus are still losing money, which suggests the “free play” model is destined to change. But with many people changing the way they connect and turning to online tools to share and promote ideas, social networking is likely here to stay.

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