Social-networking sites: the complete guide

Facebook, MySpace et al, find the right site for you

Whether you're looking for a job, a party or long-lost friends, your ideal online meeting place is out there. We uncover the best social-networking sites on the web.

With hundreds of millions of user accounts, MySpace is the internet's most recognisable (and reviled) social network. From teenagers to grandmas, seemingly everybody has a page. But Rupert Murdoch's online leviathan may not be the best option for satisfying your web-communication needs.

Nimble new startup companies are offering both general-purpose and specialised services, all for free. They could get you a job, find you a date, connect you with friends new and old and fill your life with beautiful music.

With so many social networks dotting the web, it's hard to know which ones are worth your time and bandwidth. To clarify things, we've examined more than a dozen alternatives to MySpace in five broad categories: general purpose; special interest; sites based around your taste in music or books; mobile networking; and media-sharing social networks. As we discuss our findings, we'll offer a few tips for maintaining your safety and privacy, finding friends online and getting the most out of each service.

General-purpose sites


Although it began in 2004 as an online yearbook for Harvard students, soon opened its membership to everyone else. You can search for friends according to their school, city or work affiliations, and you can join more than one of these networks, allowing you to maintain connections with ex-classmates, neighbours and colleagues.

Using this approach, the site has grown to a staggering 60 million members. Its main features — photo and video sharing, messaging and public message boards — are similar to those on MySpace, but it eschews the crazy skins and music players that render many MySpace profiles illegible.

Unfortunately, beneath Facebook's clean, blue-and-white facade lies potential risk. Last year, Facebook's controversial Beacon advertising scheme, which made members' online purchases viewable by other members, caused an uproar as users objected to being transformed into unwitting (and uncompensated) product endorsers.

If you worry that such a privacy gaffe could recur, you can use Facebook's fine-grained security settings to establish an appropriate level of privacy protection. Click here for our tips on security settings and customisations for Facebook.


Unlike Facebook and MySpace, which are in essence about fun and friends, LinkedIn promotes your career or your business. It's become one of the most talked-about social networks and has quickly grown to nearly 20 million members.

Like other networks, LinkedIn revolves around your personal profile and showcases your employment history, professional skills and education. It also explains how and why you want to be contacted.

To get the most out of your membership, make these entries brief, complete and sparkling. The most important items in your profile, however, are the recommendations you receive from current and former colleagues and employers regarding the positions you've held.

It goes without saying that the more positive recommendations you have, the better you'll look to potential employers in LinkedIn's Jobs & Hiring area, and to prospective clients in the Services area.


Is Twitter really a social network? Yes, but not in the same way as Facebook and MySpace. The content that drives Twitter is a relentless stream of real-time personal status postings called tweets, each limited to 140 characters. "Going out for more batteries" or "Feeling snacky, I think I'll have a salad" are the stuff of Twitter greatness — so long as tracking your friends' ephemeral actions and mutterings is your cup of tea.

After you've signed up, it's worth perusing the ever-changing public updates page to see the variety of ways people use Twitter and to find interesting Twitterers to follow. You can also allow Twitter to search through your email address book to see whether any of your contacts are already Twitter users.

If you'd rather not broadcast your posts to the universe, select the 'Protect my Updates' option in Twitter's settings to keep your posts out of the public timeline and approve any followers before they can see your tweets.

When you're away from your PC, Twitter lets you send and receive tweets on your mobile phone via SMS or Twitter's mobile site.

Special-interest sites

The problem with the big mass-market social networks is that they're too crowded. How will anyone find your profile among the 400 million MySpace pages? Now, however, thousands of social-networking sites have emerged that are built around specific activities, ideas or interests, or that target particular groups of people.

For example, at, African-Americans can form networks based on topics or geographical locations. is a sibling site with similar features intended for the Latino community, while serves Asian communities.

People who are experiencing their golden years can make virtual connections at or, sites dedicated to more mature social networkers. And if you really hanker after your lost youth, it's time to revisit


If you can't find an online community that matches your needs, you can build your own. At Ning, you create a customised social network with its own domain name and banner art, individual member profile pages, photo and video sharing, multiple subtopic groups and discussion forums.

Once your custom network is complete, anyone — not just Ning members — can find it in Ning's directory or through the site's keyword tag cluster. Creating a Ning network takes only a couple of minutes.

To increase the safety of your network's users, you can make it visible only to members, approve each would-be member or allow membership by invitation only.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Scott Spanbauer

PC Advisor (UK)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?