Social Network Basics: Facebook, Google+ and More

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Modern Dad

News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (Plus) or another social media destination, what defines a social network is the fact that the content being shared is decided almost entirely by the users in your network.  Although the infrastructure is provided by the service (and seems to be constantly changing and updating), shared media such as status updates, tweets, photos and article links are all uploaded by people you have somehow chosen to be connected to, and you likewise can provide that same information to others who are linked to you in the right way. Here’s why understanding social network basics is important: These sites feature huge amounts of people interacting and contributing in order to function and thrive. It’s why Facebook continues to be so popular, and why services like MySpace have evolved into niche offerings.

This simple fact that kids are involved in social networks (although those under 13 technically aren’t supposed to be) isn’t necessarily anything to be concerned with. (Unless you’ve got a tinfoil hat and are determined to keep them ‘off the grid’ for overly-protective privacy reasons).  But you must consider what it is they’re doing on there, and teach safe computing habits, in order to prepare them for life in these virtual realms.

Note that the way that kids can connect is different on each social network.  Some require that actions be taken by both parties hoping to be connected before they can interact, which is one reason why many parents seem to trust Facebook – both parties must agree to be connected in order to see each others’ updates (unless the privacy settings aren’t set correctly, but we’ll get to that point in a bit). However, others like Twitter or Google Plus require only a simple “follow” action be taken to gain consistent access to all information that a party is sharing, and the action isn’t reciprocal. That’s why Twitter is a useful way to keep tabs on your favorite celebs, sports stars or other well-known individuals, but why it’s not the best platform to communicate with those you know better. And, of course, interactions are almost all visible, so parents can check and see who their kids are turned to. It certainly feels great to see that your kid follows Barack Obama, but it’s a bit less gratifying to see they also follow Snooki and J-WOWW.

Many parents may not realize that Facebook’s terms of service actually require users to be at least 13 before getting an account. The main reason for this is because of the laws in place that restrict marketing and collecting data about kids under the age of 13, largely driven by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  But still, recent estimates are that 7.5 million kids under 13 are already on the service.

Here’s a quick look at the most popular social networks:

Facebook helps people stay connected with friends and family.  Users must both agree to become “friends” in order to view each others’ updates, photos, links and more.

Twitter is a real-time information network in which users send short text messages called “Tweets” containing 140 characters or less.  Anyone can access these updates through search, and users can choose who they want to follow.

Google Plus connects you with other users and requires you to place people in circles, which allows you to share information by specific groups.  Updates or links are then filtered to the different circles, so unlike other networks, not everyone gets the same updates from everyone else.  Anyone can add you to their Google Circle, and it’s up to you to manage who you follow.

Pinterest is a hybrid photo sharing site and social network that easily lets users share and sort photos and brief captions to others.  It’s exploding in popularity, and as of early 2012, was already the third most popular social network.

Tumblr is a “short-form” blogging platform that allows for quick updates and photo sharing, and allows users to easily follow each other or discover other content that may be of interest.

Posterous is a site designed for mobile blogging, making it easy to share content from your mobile device.  As of March 2012, the company was acquired by Twitter.

And here are a few more lesser known social networks geared towards kids:

Whatswhat.me is a “kids-only” social network designed for kids ages 7 to 13 that uses a webcam to verify a kid’s identity.  It’s fully compliant with the COPPA rules about collecting data about minors.

Imbee is another social network designed for younger kids that features a profanity-free music streaming service called Imbee Radio.

YourSphere is designed for kids 18 and under and subjects its applicants to strict background checks, and features games, activities and a system for earning credits.

 

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About author

Johner Riehl

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on families, technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for FamilyFriendlyApps.com and FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, sites that provide reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also host of Parent Savers, a podcast aimed at helping parents of newborns, infants and toddlers. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad

View all posts by Johner Riehl

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