While social networking seems to be a common Web 2.0 catchphrase it has long existed prior to the advent of the Internet. Long before we were tied to our cell phones, our cars, and our busy schedules social networks primarily consisted of social groups called families. Synonymous with families at one time or another were tribes, clans, units, and in many cases organizations. Social networks are comprised of nodes, which are represented by individuals or groups and when these nodes are combined they make up a network. There has been a constant debate on whether social networking has an appropriate place in education for quite some time and this conversation will continue so long as there are social networking sites garnering unfavorable press like myspace and facebook. However, when properly established, appropriately used, and carefully monitored social networking has a place in everything from education to business to family.
One of the social networking tools I find quite useful and use extensively is Ning. This social networking tool is quite robust and like any effectively Web 2.0 tool, customizable. Ning was started in 2004 with the premise that individuals could create their own social network based upon their own interest or need and in turn could customize the layout of their network. They could then either invite members and maintain a level of privacy or leave it open to whomever had an interest in joining. Today Ning is the largest “build it yourself” social network on the Internet and continues to grow.
Another social networking tool I use extensively that is not generally considered among the social networking applications is called Twitter. Twitter is essentially a microblogging application that lets the user follow designated people as well as other follow them. Each time you post or tweet something all of your followers will be able to read it. Individuals are able to follow as many people and they'd like and respond either to specific individual with personal messages or post anything to their general message thread. There are many third party applications that allows things such as posting to your twitter feed directly from your web browser, you can post hyperlinks that are listed with a tinyurl, you can post pictures using twitpic, among many other options.
At this point I think as long as there continues to be dialogue about social networks there will be some positive fallout. For example, as long as parents and educators are exposed to the social discourse on social networks they will be more likely to at minimum monitor their students/childrens use of them and ideally utilize them to teach appropriate conduct and safety in a Social Networking environment.