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More than Dating

Online dating sites such as Match, UDate, and Matchmaker offer means of connecting on a one-to-one basis. Through profiles and targeted searches, these subscription-based services offer messaging tools to communicate with each other and establish offline meeting places. Online social networks goal toward the one-to-one connection, but do it through a more personalized one-to-many experience. They build a user base of connected individuals: friends of friends of friends. They hope that because you already have a one- or two-degree connection to these individuals, you will be more motivated to use their services.

Enter the online social network. These online sites leverage the tools of the computer network (searching, messaging) to enable us to fulfill the requirements of our people network to find a Citrix-savvy project manager or a buddy to go hiking with.

There are more than 50 different social networks available online (some of them admittedly less well-known). We take a look at three of them in this article: Friendster, LinkedIn, and Orkut. They are not only among the most popular, but are also representative of the different types of social networks available online.

These networks all leverage similar technologies to make connections. Filling out a profile of yourself and inviting your friends and co-workers to do the same enables you to view their list of connections and request contact with people in their lists. You can then search through your degrees of acquaintance based on certain criteria—shared interests, geography, and so on—and each site provides different types of messaging (some within the system and some without).

NOTE

These networks all claim to be in "beta." They are fully functioning websites, and although I did experience performance problems with two out of the three, calling them "beta" is something each company does to call attention to the fact that they have plans in future to charge for some of their services.

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