I tested the following sites:
My focus was on the following features:
- Keep the contact
I have a lot of work and a family - both needs much attention. I don't have the time for regular meetings with my friends. I do know many people that I would like to have contact more often but usually I see my good friends only once in a few months. So one big challenge is to not completely get the people out of sight that I do see very seldom.
As I have no time and as I am a life hacker using GTD methods, efficiency is a major priority for me. If the application does not bring big benefit with a minimum effort I will not use it.
It is easy to nag me with additional necessary clicks or time used to search for a specific feature (e.g. password change, write to others wall etc.). I looked for the tool that minimizes those annoyances.
A https-Access to the site at least for the login is a must. If the whole site can be used https then either better.
- Members from your network
It is somewhat important how many of the people you know are already using the particular site. Although some people have their account on several social networking sites, they are barely really using them all. And if you can convince somebody to sign up for a different site it will not be clear if this person will continue to use the site. So it is better if your contacts are already actively using the site.
- XING (Business focus):
- Complete navigation can be done in https.
- Many of my colleagues, partners and customers do have an account there (talking about Austria/Europe).
- The available features can be used quite easily.
- Very annoying that many features are only available to the one that pays. Status updates and so on are limited to a certain number of messages. So if you want to stay informed you have to look at XING at the very least once a day - very annoying.
- Facebook (Private focus):
- What I like most is the fact that you can easily stay in contact with your friends and feel still connected somehow even if you see them very seldom. You get notified, what they like most, what they are currently interested in and doing. You can discovered shared interests you didn't were aware of. Many of my friends are already there - many are not (but from those most can't be found either anywhere else).
- If you use Facebook, you IMHO don't need Twitter - such a feature of micro-blogging is included by status updates.
- Login not https if you do not manually type it into the address link. Can be solved by saving the appropriate link in your bookmarks.
- What I hate most on Facebook is the spam. There is a lot of stuff like karma, snowballs, pets that gets thrown at you. Similar problem with those huge amount of unwanted applications - I have no other word than spam for this.
- LinkedIn (Business focus):
- Focus on finding the right business partners - appropriate features like recommendation of others.
- Tries to avoid adding people you do not personally know (well, also can be an advantage).
- Limited features for those who don't pay.
- Recommendation features are basic and do not reflect uncommon situations (e.g. I have a friend who is also a business partner and he runs two separate businesses - both combinations are not supported).
- Orkut (Private focus):
- Tightly integrated with GMail/Google as part of Google applications collection.
- Poor feature set.
- Quite nobody of my friends/contacts is there.
- StudiVZ/MeinVZ (Private focus):
- Focus on main features to link contacts (so it has not the spam level known from Facebook).
- Very annoying separation of StudiVZ and MeinVZ. What if I run a business and do study? How to change later when I first used StudiVZ and then finished studying? - Maybe a change is easy but I currently do not know if this is well supported. Then when searching a friend I have to consider whether to search StudiVZ, MeinVZ or both.
- Needs certificate exception added to firefox to somehow get https to work.
- Ning (Different focus):Ning has a little bit a special status - it is not one common social networking site, instead it offers the possibility to create more specialized networks. For instance to get all the Star Trek fans together or to create a community for all vendors and customers of a certain product or even to create communities for a specific hobby.
- Completely different areas for different communities can be created.
- Combines social networking, forum and blogging features.
- If I have multiple networks I may need to write some common personal information twice.
- The forum features are quite limited although I think that for more specialized communities the forum features are the most important.
For staying connected with friends you either see only once a year or even less, Facebook is IMHO the best choice. When you meet you can focus on the most important or interesting topics to talk and you can save a lot of time by "just bringing your friend up to date about a lot of minor changes your life". Those things can be published on Facebook. I would only keep attention not to publish too private and personal details. One good thing is also the availability of a mobile app that is available for most mobile phones - so you can post at Facebook what you are doing while on the road (I use this because while on train or waiting somewhere is the best time for such activities - you don't loose other important productive time then).
For business it may depend on your location what is more relevant for you - it might be XING or LinkedIn - both have business focus features, so it makes sense to have one private and one business focused social networking site in use. However, all the business focused sites do offer only limited features without payment - logically (you want to make business using that site so they also want to get their part of it).
Regarding personal information posted into social networking sites:
This is an often discussed issue, therefore I want to give a short statement on this. People often warn about the use of social networking sites and post too much private information.
If one use drugs or is alcoholic (s)he won't publish such information anywhere - not on paper nor somewhere on the internet (exceptions given for people who want to show in public how to quit).
I also had a discussion regarding "bad-will" of others. There are always people who don't like you even if you wish love, peace and success to everybody. As you can't satisfy everybody, there will be people who don't like you. The more information they can get about you the easier it is for them to harm you. - However, if somebody really wants to harm or nag you, phone number and address is the most important information. Most social networking sites allow particular privacy settings. In Facebook for instance posted information is only published to those who you confirmed as friends. If somebody does not like you and wants to talk bad about you to your friends, it's not your friends if they believe it without at least asking you also for a statement to hear both sides.
On the other hand, you would like your old friends to re-find you, you want to keep in touch with friends you see only seldom because you have not much time and you also might want head hunters to find you for offering a good job. So being present on the web and on social networking sites has also a lot of advantages. But anyway, you decide whether and where to be present - just remember: A big part of success is "showing up".
Related posts: Why I don't need Twitter, The mobile device, Surveillance, privacy (NSA, PRISM, ...) and encryption.