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Social networking, also referred to as social media, is an online network where a group of people get connected by bonds of friendship, professional relationship or some kind of common interest and passion. It comprises many internet based tools that let people to communicate, interact, engage and collaborate with each other in real-time, hence a place for exchanging information.
With the emergence of web 2.0 technology, the social media and networking sites became very popular. Some of the examples are blogs; microblogs like twitter; social networking sites like facebook, myspace; professional networks like linkedin; wikis, video sharing sites like youtube; social bookmarking sites like delicious; photosharing sites like flickr; presentation sharing sites like slideshare; podcasts, forums, virtual world like second life. Earlier, social networking was developed as a tool for connecting family and friends, now it has evolved into an effective knowledge management tool exclusively used by business houses, companies and organisations for communicating their interests, for promoting and marketing their business products, and for increasing their visibility to global audience.
The power of social media and networking lies in their versatility – everyone in a network can express in any language, in any matter anytime. The advantage over the conventional media such as newspapers, radios, television is that people get the first hand information in real-time and they can further communicate and share the news, events or received information to their other networks instantly to reach the wider audience. The ease with which people can connect themselves and express their opinion, and the pace with which the information spread has made the social media and networking even more dynamic and popular. The world news agencies like CNN and BBC, research organisations like National Geography, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Intel and several global companies and organisations are taking advantage of the social media in reaching their messages to the wider audience.
The social networking can also be used for uplifting the society and community. Example is “BraveHeart Women” network (http://www.braveheartwomen.com/). It is a women’s social networking site joined by women who feel confident about being themselves and who follow their own hearts and instinct for life. The site is created by Dr. Ellie Drake, who envisioned bringing women together from all parts of the world to support each other’s cause in creating a purposeful life with passion and prosperity. The site regularly features interviews with women who have a purpose in life encouraging many others to come forward and make their life meaningful. The other social network for a cause is Changents (http://changents.com/). Changents is a privately owned and operated storytelling and social networking platform, launched in June 2008 by Alex Hofmann and Deron Triff. The network features multimedia profiles of individuals, called Change Agents, who are working to create positive changes in the areas of global warming, corporate responsibility, disaster relief, education, energy, environment, health, homelessness, human rights, hunger, politics, terrorism, tolerance, violence and war & conflict. These Change Agents share their ongoing, personal stories through videos, photos, blogs, twitter, and other media. The Changents community is made up of Change Agents and Backers – a term used to describe supporters from around the world who associate with and help Change Agents on the site. Backers are able to create personal profiles and interact with Change Agents and other Backers via commenting, action requests (engagement/support opportunities), and Changents messaging feature.
Above mentioned are two examples of specific kind of social networking sites. The features of the social media vary depending on their purpose. There are sites of general interest and sites where you are able to develop more professional contact and have focused discussion. In order to take utmost advantage of social media, one may need to have account with different sites. For example, a facebook account can be used for global networking, a twitter for micro blogging, a youtube for sharing video, slideshare for presentation sharing and so on. Updating multiple social sites is not an easy task. However, with the advancement of computer technology, different social media can be integrated – an update in one is automated in others. For example, if you update your status or share information on your facebook, you can also have them updated onto your twitter account without actually getting into the twitter site – that means you are updating or sharing your information with all the friends in different networking. Imagine if you had to do this for each site separately!
The Internet in combination with social media created a dynamic and indispensible communication platform and infrastructure for 21st century. With the use of the devices like smart phones and iPads, people can connect to their social networking anytime from anywhere provided the devices are equipped with the Internet connectivity. Most of such devices these days come with widgets of various social media which provide an excellent and easy way for people to stay connected and communicate with their network as and when they require. This is a big advantage in terms of knowledge management as people no more need to have access to computer or any other media for sharing information, they can share through their hand-held devices as they experience or encounter any event – during travel, in work or anywhere. What if this feature of social networking is transformed into community support during emergencies for providing on-the-ground information in disaster areas? Twitter became the source of information and news for many. The application like Yoono (http://www.yoono.com/) helps to bring most of the social networking in a single window so that you don’t need to logged in into different accounts to get updates which saves enormous amount of time to track all your networks – desktop version of Yoono as well as FireFox and Chrome add-ons are available for free.
ICIMOD has facebook (http://www.facebook.com/icimod) and twitter (http://www.twitter.com/icimod) for sharing news, events and other information; and youtube (http://www.youtube.com/icimod) for sharing short videos. These tools will help people interested in/about ICIMOD, to keep themselves updated on the activities of ICIMOD in an efficient way, and at the same time they can share the ICIMOD updates further with their networks.
Security threats to IT system, time spent by staff and individuals in social networking are considered as major drawbacks of the social media whereas rapid sharing of information is considered as the advantage. Despite the drawbacks, social media is gaining more and more popularity among companies, organisations and individuals for sharing information so don’t be surprised if you see the social networking ID in the business card you receive from your business client or your friend, people are already using one in their websites.
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