check in with the bands fans and post missives on where AFRs tour is headed next. Student Athena Sonke uses her LiveJournal to keep a record of her thoughts and self-penned prose, and to keep in
touch with her friends when shes traveling or away at college in Grand Rapids. And Petoskeys Roast & Toast Coffee & Cafè even has a photo-filled LiveJournal account - dubbed toastandjammers - solely dedicated to their Sunday night open mic show, Toast & Jam.
For those internet-surfers who feel that email is passé and instant messaging is so yesterday, these are just a few examples of the new method of keeping in touch with (and meeting) people online, namely networking or journaling sites.
Some people merely use these sites to keep track of faraway friends, set up social events more easily, or write down their activities and thoughts in a journal or diary-type format. But other users live large portions of their lives on these sites, hitting them daily much like youd unthinkingly use the telephone or check your email - these users construct a complex virtual social group of people, some of whom they might know IRL (in real life) and some of whom they may never meet face-to-face.
The sites that are perpetuating this new method of socializing are popping up quicker than housewives at a Kmart blue-light special - Xanga, MyDearDiary, Friendster, Diaryland, Zorpia, Orkut, Hi5, Facebook, Tribe.net, OpenDiary - the list goes on and on. But, for the purpose of this article (and welcome brevity), well focus on what are, to date, the two most popular sites out there, namely LiveJournal and MySpace.
Although both of these sites are general networking/blog sites, they differ quite a bit in presentation and overall tone. LiveJournal - or LJ as users call it - focuses on writing text entries and posting links and photos, and appears to be more for the literate and artsy-crafty crowds; and for those who prefer to limit exactly whats going on in their little section of cyberspace.
Free of advertising banners and far more easily controllable than many of the other social networking sites, LiveJournal begins with an easy setup that involves writing a behind-the-cut profile and a list of interests (not immediately visible to everyone unless they specifically click on the link). Then you choose a layout, titles, and colors.
The depth of customization is dictated by whether the account is a free or paid account, although the free accounts, generously, have more than enough well-designed options for the average user.
LiveJournal also invokes optional security controls through a Friends List format on which writers can choose which of their also-on-LiveJournal-friends (or friends-to-be) can read and/or respond to their entries in a series of comment boxes. Alternatively, they can shutter their entries down to everyone but themselves.
LiveJournal has a pretty decent percentage of RPG gamers, and there is a plethora of satellite feeds, too, via which participants can include as Friends. In Friends, youll find the often quite interesting diaries of such fellow LiveJournal people as Star Trek alumnus Wil Wheaton, writer Neil Gaiman, electronica guru Moby, actor/writer Zach Braff, ex-Americas Next Top Model Elyse Sewell, and many others, plus choices of daily cartoons, horoscopes, and other diversions.
MySpace, on the other hand, has a bit of a seedier tone to it thats apparent on first visit, when you catch site of the banner ads for such things as debt management, Mate1 Dating Service, E-Spin-the-Bottle.com, and pleas to lower the legal drinking age to 18.
MySpace can be quite useful for staying in touch with friends (many of whom can be seen on the comment boxes stopping by to say hello), and for meeting those with like interests. Youll find MySpacers ranging from painters to dog breeders, goths to folk-singers, accountants to those in the military.
But MySpace is much less focused on aesthetics, slightly less focused on content, and much more devoted to the hookup, as evidenced by unsolicited, non-Friend comments that range more towards the likes of U R hott, add me and we will get to KNOW each other. Uh, yeah.
MySpace does have several interesting features that include a front-page photo gallery, the ability to have a favorite MP3 file play as the visitor enters the page, and additional customizable options, but the tone of MySpace pages end up being very much what the user chooses to make them, and, unfortunately, that often ends up being kind of sketchy.
The other interesting thing about MySpace, however, is its split personality - while some of the personal pages might sometimes seem as uncomfortable as being chatted up by a drunk guy at a bar, MySpaces music sites are the opposite.
Using the same plain but well-organized layout that the personal pages use, the music MySpaces are a great forum for musicians to showcase their wares, with spaces for MP3 uploads that are easily accessed by a personal music player; a photo gallery; a section for tour dates; a blog section; and, of course, those familiar comment boxes for shout-outs and such.
And, in case youre wondering, the ad space at MySpace Music is a little more respectable, too -- several refreshes brought forth ads from the likes of MSN, ETrade Financial Services, the American Music Awards, Cingular, and Jamster, as well as a variety of banner ads for various bands and their new albums.
MySpace Music is becoming so popular that users, in addition to tapping in to a large resource of unsigned and indie artists, can also Friend such MySpace major-label members as Madonna, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Weezer, The Black Eyed Peas, and Switchfoot. The majority of these artist pages are official pages, making MySpace Music definitely something to watch, especially if the rumors about an upcoming MySpace record label actually prove true.
But theres a dark side to sites like MySpace and LiveJournal, too (more so on MySpace than LJ). In addition to the obvious problems that any social networking site can perpetuate - namely, the unwelcome-pick-up aspect - people with ill intentions also troll these kinds of websites looking to prey on those perhaps less net-savvy. This may involve trying to coerce them into sketchy purchases of bootleg recordings, party paraphenelia, or other items, or even just doing something as simple (yet unsettling) as leaving a rude picture or obscene phrase in the unsuspecting MySpacers comment box.
Another trouble with these sites seems to be one thats an equal bane in the real world; gossip and manipulation, here multiplied x100. For every friendly comment left on MySpace or LJ, there are also ample opportunities to quickly type something negative (sometimes anonymously) and figuratively run away, leaving the person who was typed at to ponder what was said and how it was meant.
Lacking the immediacy of a phone call or an in-person confrontation, friendships that lean on such sites to deal with conflicts or get back at others are destined for disaster, or at least a lot of unnecessary 9th-grade level drama.
Thats where LiveJournal is a step above MySpace: in its ability to severely limit who is allowed to read or comment on entries. But then MySpace has that whole MySpace Music thing thats making quite the noise in the music industry community - so, all in all, its a toss-up between these two top social networking sites, depending on just what your social networking aims are and how much extraneous annoyances youre willing to put up with.
They might have a few problems that could use a little ironing out, but, all in all, these sites can still be remarkable, fun ways to communicate, and its amazing how, in just a few years, the online community has embraced such forums right into their daily lives as naturally as one might brush their teeth.
Used in a way that points more towards keeping in touch with friends, meeting those with genuinely similar interests, or discovering new music, these sites are another example of how the internet continues to broaden our horizons and shorten the distances between people.