The Many Facets of Friendship

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by Mike Ugulini

Online Friendships

Last month we took a look at friendship and the many types that exist. From acquaintances and colleagues through to traditional friendships of different levels, we examined what having friends is all about in life. We also touched briefly on the more recent phenomenon of online friendships. This month we'll take a closer look at "Friends in Cyberspace".

Online friendship platforms are experiencing significant growth. This growth has especially blossomed in the last few years. The advent of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more fuelled this explosion of users. Then Twitter came along and added more fuel to the fire. On top of that are the various specialized social forums and chat rooms. If you have an interest in a certain subject or hobby, or whatever, you can probably find an online social portal devoted to it.

Online friendship sites offer two attractive benefits to their users. First, they're available 24-7. You can go online at any time and connect with old friends or initiate conversations with potential new friends.

Second, they allow for mobile communication. Via your laptop, cell phones, and such you not only communicate whenever, but from wherever. That's the beauty and power of digital communications in our hi-tech world.

You're no longer beholden to a landline telephone, a fax machine, or your home PC to communicate. Today you can communicate half a world away with someone while you're in transit. Be it on a bus, boat, subway, train, or in the air, you can always be in touch with someone.

Of course, it pays to be wary of whom you do begin conversations with when accessing the various sites. Online security and privacy issues are at the forefront of the boom in online friendships. That's an entire topic in itself. You must be careful with whom you engage in social discourse with online. In addition, it's wise to be aware of the personal information you do divulge online. There's a host of good information online on how to conduct oneself in a proper and safe manner on the Worldwide Web.

Through great advances in digital technology, today you can communicate in unique ways online. As we mentioned in last month's article, you can text chat and e-mail, all without ever seeing the person. You can also send photos and engage in live video chat as well. With streaming video, today you can watch a friend being blanketed with a snowfall in Vermont as you chat to him or her live from a beach in Barbados.

Here's a run down of the popular sites for making friends online. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Nonetheless, it's a brief overview of the more popular ones:

Facebook

Facebook is an online social networking site. It's available free to interested users who register an account with the entity. With your Facebook account, you can add friends and send these friends various messages.

You have a personal profile as part of your account, which you can update regularly. This allows you to notify friends about what's going on in your life at any given time. With your Facebook account, you can share photos as well.

A major feature of a Facebook account is the "Wall." This is a dedicated space on the profile page of each user. This space allows friends to post messages for the user to see. The Photos application is also a popular feature on Facebook. With this feature, users can upload a plethora of albums and photos.

With Facebook, you can set your profile on public or private. A private setting means acquaintances cannot contact you. A public profile allows close friends to send messages and add you as a friend. When you update your personal profile, you can then notify close friends about the latest happenings in your life. Facebook also allows you to join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region. In this way, you interact with those of the same interests, occupations, academic affiliations, and such.

MySpace

MySpace is immensely popular as well. With this portal, you search for current friends, old friends, as well as make new friends. Like Facebook, this platform allows you to upload pictures as well as video. Your account, also free, comes with a web address. You select a URL and use it as your personal address on the Internet. You can also add music onto your page. MySpace also allows for mobile communicating.

MySpace provides a user-friendly page editor for those who sign-up with their service. You can easily customize your profile page with their theme pages as suits your tastes. With your profile ready to go you can search on MySpace for friends, family, and other individuals with common backgrounds.

Of course, you can make new friends as well. You do this by viewing your friends "top friends" and interacting with them to see if indeed they will become friends of yours too. You can also search schoolmates or just engage in browsing MySpace to form new friendships.

Do you want to get in touch with old friends to see what's going on in their lives? MySpace allows you to import your Yahoo!, Hotmail, and Gmail contacts to see who's on MySpace. In this way, you can readily send them a message and connect.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a website that allows one to form professional friendships. These begin as business friendships but can also transform into personal 'away-from-work' friendships as well. With LinkedIn, professionals use the website to exchange information, ideas, and opportunities. It's like Facebook and MySpace with the business element front and centre. As with the other sites, you control your professional identity online.  You decide whom you wish to connect with and who can connect with you.

Through communication on this portal, you stay informed about your contacts and also the industry and sector in which you operate. With LinkedIn, you have the ability to find the people, knowledge, and expertise you need to achieve your business goals. All the while, you build relationships with people who indeed can become lasting friends on a business and personal level.

Twitter

Twitter is all the rage right now. It seems everyone is "tweeting", which are short blasts of communication akin to a bird's tweet. Twitter is communication in brief. With a Twitter account, you only have 140 characters you can type in the text box to let others know what you're doing.

Twitter asks its users one question, "What are you doing?" You then type in 140 characters or less, to tell your audience what you are in fact "doing." You sign up for a free Twitter account and set your profile. You then "tweet" several times a day or week, or whenever you feel like it. In essence, you're giving people quick updates in short punchy phrases.

You connect with people on Twitter that have common interests. This can lead to developing friendships, personal or business wise, with them through other means. This would include communicating with them beyond the Twitter platform on Facebook or MySpace, or other social forums. You can also direct someone to your blog or website to communicate further with him or her.

With Twitter, you can send direct private messages to those who read your tweets. In these private messages, you can indicate other ways for the individual to communicate with you, including e-mail and such. This is how you build friendships on Twitter that go beyond communicating in short 140 character snippets.

Communication online makes making new friends a faster and easier task. It also allows one to catch up on old times with friends they haven't heard from in awhile, wherever they may be. Geographical hindrances are no hindrance at all online. If you approach online friendships with care, paying attention to the aforementioned security and privacy concerns, you can build quality relationships with people from anywhere on the planet.