Found via Slashdot, I like this article detailing 35 different ways to look at online social networking.
I was going to do a sort of annotated list of my favorites, but then realized that I was annotating every one of them. So here's my top five from the first fifteen, but I encourage you to read them all:
4. The identity perspective
...young people are continuously constructing, re-constructing and displaying their self-image and identity. Also, the network sites make them co-constructors of each other’s identities....
I like this one because it shows that these places are not static - a library can't just "have a presence" and think that's good enough. You're either an active part of the community or you're not - just like in physical life. If a library wants to be part of its community, it can't just open a building with a "library" sign above the door. It has to have useful resources inside, interesting programs, participate in town events, etc. Online communities are no different.
6. The paedophile and predator perspective
...Social networking sites are an El Dorado for paedophiles and predators...
This one I disagree with. Although the "El Dorado" reference seem apparently accurate, online communities should be much safer for kids than parks, malls, or even libraries. Yes, I'm sure predators hang out in these places, all of the above places. But in online communities, the biggest danger seems to be giving out too much information. In contrast, no matter how safe a kid is being in a mall or a park, they can still be forcibly taken against their will. Online communities can be dangerous, which is why it is important to teach kids how to be safe (by not to talk too much to strangers, or giving out personal information), rather than trying to insulate them entirely.
11. The network perspective
...learn the crucial importance of being able to network which they can benefit from in their future professional life....
This one I liked because it's absolute true - online communication is the way of the future, and it's important that kids (as well as adults) learn how to do it, and do it well. I'm sure there were people that resisted telephones, fax machines, and email, but aren't these skills fairly crucial to everyday life now?
13. The source critique perspective
...force young people to be sceptical [sic] of what they see and read online. They know that people can create faker profiles which make them extra aware of the identity of the people they communicate with...
Of all the points list here, this one might be the single most important.
15. The democratic perspective
...allow young people to have a voice in society. Here, they can be heard and express their opinions....
There certainly isn't enough of this these days. Online communities let people contribute to something greater than themselves, and collaborate with others to produce something useful together, rather than wasting resources through competition.
As I said, there's much more worth reading in this article.