What is the Social Web?

The social web is the term used to identify the many different types of opportunities for people to socialize via use of the World Wide Web. This web within a web includes a variety of web sites that each have their own particular tools for creating and sustaining interaction among a wide range of people. Sites that are considered part of the social web may be focused on general social interaction; devoted to specific hobbies, interests, or pastimes; or provide a gathering place for professionals who wish to communicate with others who face the same types of everyday challenges and opportunities that they do.

When most people think of the social web, social networking sites easily come to mind. Sites of this type usually require participants to register for membership, then create a profile. With some sites, key information such as name and location can be hidden, even from other members of the site. When this is the case, the sites offer the option of creating a screen name that is used in any chat rooms or message boards operated by the site. Should a member wish to reveal more information to another member, that can be accomplished through email or private messaging options provided by the networking site.

A networking site that is part of the social web may be a general membership site that is open to a wide range of people. Some sites require that members be within a certain age bracket, which is often the case with networking sites devoted to children and teenagers. Other sites require that participants be over the age of eighteen or twenty-one, and are considered adults. In many cases, content is somewhat limited, depending on the age range of the members. For example, a networking site that is open to minors as well as adults would prohibit the sharing of any adult-oriented material. Restricted sites, such as social networks designed to allow consenting adults to seek encounters with other consenting adults, would tend to have more flexible rules regarding the type of content that a member can display.

In some cases, a site that is part of the social web is devoted to a specific cause or interest. Many religious organizations today are incorporating chat rooms and message boards into the overall design of their web sites. This allows both members of the organization and those who are interested in learning more about the organization to interact in an environment that is secure and usually monitored. Local and national environmental groups sometimes use this same basic model. Even a local club or a chapter of a national club can set up this type of social setting, often for a nominal fee or no fee at all, and enjoy lively interaction on the Internet.

There are also social web applications that are used by business people to create online support networks that allow them to share their expertise with one another. For example, a networking site devoted to human resource professionals would include a message board where members could discuss impending changes in labor laws or other factors that impact their role in the workplace. Participants in the group could also ask for suggestions on how to deal with complicated issues that sometimes arise in the workplace. With this application, the emphasis is providing not only social interaction and promoting a sense of community, but also offering support when and as needed.