What does social networking mean to you? If you spend three hours every night clicking through the wedding photos of your co-worker's friend (aww, adorable flower girl), or reading the wall posts of your college crush (ugh, cute kids), then maybe it's time to expand your definition—not to mention your network. Since the 1997 launch of SixDegrees.com, generally acknowledged as the first site to allow users to create profiles and check out their friends' contacts, the concept of social networking has expanded into countless directions. Many of them allow people to make changes on a personal as well as global level—but only if enough of us link up. Consider putting your profile-stalking on pause to find out what else your clicks could be doing, building, supporting and transforming, starting with ways to...
Become a Better Person
Technology has made it easier and less intrusive to recruit allies in our never-ending quests for self-improvement. These two sites, inspired by game culture, give a techie twist to the phrase "buddy system."
DailyFeats: This new website allows you to make to-do lists of small yet worthwhile daily goals, like "drink green tea" or "tuck in your kid." Every time you accomplish one of your selected "feats," you rack up points that can be applied toward discounts at places like gyms, restaurants and hotels. To keep you honest, you can invite friends and family members to monitor your progress. Studies have shown that people who track their good habits are more likely to keep them up, and sharing that information with others gives us a boost of pride—even for simple tasks like popping a multivitamin.
SuperBetter: Game designer and techno-supergirl Jane McGonigal created SuperBetter as a way to help her recover from the depression she struggled with after a head concussion. This game, intended for those who want to achieve more serious health goals like dealing with an injury or illness, is modeled on a role-playing adventure. Players create missions for their health and wellness "journey," then enlist the help of friends and family to guide them through real-world challenges. "Social psychologists have long observed that one of the hardest things about a chronic injury or illness is asking our friends and family for support," McGonigal has written. "But asking for what we need makes a huge difference. It prevents social isolation, and it gives people who want to help, but don't know how, something specific and actionable to do."
Broaden Your Worldview
New research from information economists shows that we acquire more new information from close friends than from casual acquaintances. Although the acquaintances may offer perspectives that differ from our own, our contact with them is limited. We interact with our close friends much more often, providing them with more opportunities to share news, info and gossip. The key here is to make sure that you're interacting frequently with at least a few friends who are different from you.
Facebook: Focus on the "friends" who are actually your friends. Initiate and participate in conversations (lurking and "Liking" don't count).
Goodreads and Netflix: You can mine your pals' favorites on these sites to find unexpected book and film recommendations. This BlogHer post has more tips for getting the most out of Goodreads, like starting online groups that "are like book clubs, but without the pressure."