Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Rise of Online Social Networks

Social computingImage by lorda via Flickr

Bryan Alexander points to a Nielsen report that shows that social network sites and blogs have now outstripped email in popularity. The biggest increase has been in the 35-49 age group (hey! that's my age group). I think there are obvious reasons for this. First, is that this age group is likely to have teenagers who use online tools to connect with their friends. Those kids parents have signed up for Facebook or other sites to keep tabs on their kids. Or just to understand what it is that their kids are doing. Second, many of the initial adopters of these tools are now in jobs, working alongside their 30 and 40 something colleagues and encouraging them to use blogs or social networking tools for professional development.

Anecdotally, I'm seeing this increase too. I wrote before about being found in Facebook by high school and college friends (who are obviously in my age group), and being a little uncomfortable with that. Last night I was at Course Selection Night for new high school students (yikes! I have a kid going to high school!), and the PTSA handed out flyers indicating that they were on Facebook. I was actually happy about that and I'll probably friend them soon. Yesterday, I was able to update my contact information and list my preferred volunteer activities via an online tool called PTO manager and I mentioned earlier that the elementary school used an online potluck site to coordinate a big event that required food donations. I was also able to find out more about the budget of the Middle School PTO through the online site because they posted the minutes.

In part, this has been spurred locally by a new mandate from the school district that they will not provide access to the student database for the PTO. In the past, materials were sent home via the students and/or were mailed and emailed by allowing the PTO access to mailing and email addresses. Well, no more. And so the PTO had to get creative about how to gather that information for themselves and how to reach out to parents. I think some of this new interest in online communication is spurred too by a younger group of parents. The parents of my daughter's friends are often younger than me since their oldest is my daughter's age. As these parents begin to volunteer, they're more familiar with social networking than their older peers.

Interestingly, I was sitting behind some moms last night who thought that Facebook was a silly idea for the PTSA and didn't want to get an account. As one mom said, "Whoever I want to see, I see. I don't need to use Facebook for that." Over the last 6 years that we've lived here, I've increasingly become aware of how many people grew up here. They have deep roots and have established connections over the years and don't need these tools to maintain them or build new ones. They don't socialize that way. But some of us do. Some of us are maintaining old friendships through blogging, twittering, and FB. Some of us are trying to find new connections through those same tools. And I'm glad to see some of the local organizations recognizing that there's more than one way to connect with people.

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