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A guide to some key social media utilities

Bebo is a social networking blog site. The website's name is an acronym for ‘Blog Early, Blog Often’. Users receive a personal profile page where they can post blogs, photographs, music, videos and questionnaires to which other users may answer. Additionally, users may add others as friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves and their activities. Bebo is free to use. Practical application: Bebo can be used to update children and young people about a project or service, as well as being useful to consult with children and young people. The integration of questionnaires makes this particularly effective.

Wordpress is an open source blog tool and publishing platform. It has many features including a template system. Users can re-arrange widgets without needing any knowledge of coding, which makes it very easy for users of any ability to utilise. WordPress is used by over 13% of the 1,000,000 biggest websites and is free to use. Practical application: Wordpress can be used to create an attractive and engaging site in an easy-to-use manner. As wordpress is so user-friendly it makes it possible for children and young people to connect and even create their own sites.

Facebook is a social networking service launched in February 2004. As of January 2011, Facebook has more than 600 million active users. Users may create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Additionally, users may join common interest user groups, organized by workplace, school or college, or other characteristics. Facebook allows anyone who declares themselves to be at least 13 years old to become a registered user of the website. Facebook is free to use. Practical application: Facebook is a great way to engage children and young people in activism and to spread information about a given topic. As a large number of young people are already using facebook it gives a large pool of young people to consult and engage with.


Myspace is a social networking site. Bulletins can be posted on to a "bulletin board" for everyone on a Myspace user's friends list to see. Bulletins can be useful for contacting an entire friends list without resorting to messaging users individually. Myspace also has a groups feature that allows a group of users to share a common page and message board. Groups can be created by anybody, and the moderator of the group could choose for anyone to join, or to approve or deny requests to join. Myspace Polls enables users to post polls on their profile and share them with other users. Myspace has also launched a news service called Myspace News which displays news that users submit. It also allows users to rank each news story by voting for it. The more votes a story gets, the higher the story moves up the page. Myspace is free to use. Practical application: Myspace is a good way to engage with children and young people through social networking, although it has declined slightly in popularity. Myspace has a variety of applications which allow not only the broadcast of information but also the collection of information and opinions.

Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks launched in October 2005. Ning competes with social sites like MySpace and Facebook by appealing to people who want to create their own social networks around specific interests, with their own visual design, choice of features and member data. The central feature of Ning is that anyone can create their own social network for a particular topic or need, catering to specific membership bases. Ning has three levels of paid service. Each pay level allows for different degrees of features, viral tools, customization, and customer support. Ning network administrators can select from options that govern various levels of viewability, privacy and membership. Practical application: Ning can be used to set up your own social networking site around a specific issue. For example if creating a social network for a youth council, Ning can offer a good solution. Ning allows various levels of privacy and therefore can be used with younger ages.

Flickr is an image hosting and video hosting website, web services suite, and online community. In addition to being a popular website for users to share and embed personal photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media. In September 2010, it reported that it was hosting more than 5 billion images. Free account users are allowed to upload 300 MB of images a month and 2 videos. Pro accounts allow users to upload an unlimited number of images and videos every month and receive unlimited bandwidth and storage. Practical application: Flickr is an ideal way to showcase images from events and consultations, and provides an easy way to embed such images in existing or new websites.


YouTube is a video-sharing website on which users can upload, share, and view videos. Unregistered users may watch videos, and registered users may upload an unlimited number of videos. Videos that are considered to contain potentially offensive content are available only to registered users 18 and older. YouTube is free to use. Practical application: YouTube not only offers users the opportunity to promote themselves through video, it can also be a platform to showcase content created by children and young people.

SlideShare is an online slide hosting service. Users can upload files in the following file formats: PowerPoint, PDF, Keynote or OpenOffice presentations. Launched on October 4, 2006, the website is considered to be similar to YouTube, but for slideshows. The website was originally meant to be used for businesses to share slides among employees more easily, but it has since expanded to also become a host of a large number of slideshows. The website gets an estimated 12 million unique visitors a month. Slideshare is free to use. Practical application: Slideshare gives users the ability to embed presentations in websites and share presentations with a larger audience. Slideshare could be used to present information to children and young people in a more engaging manner.

Prezi is a web-based presentation application and storytelling tool that uses a single canvas instead of traditional slides. Text, images, videos and other presentation objects are placed on the infinite canvas and grouped together in frames. The canvas allows users to create non-linear presentations, where users can zoom in and out of a visual map. A path through different objects and frames can be defined, representing the order of the information to be presented. The presentation can be developed in a browser window, then downloaded so that an Internet connection is not needed when showing the presentation. Practical application: Prezi allows users to present information in a more engaging and fluid manner. It can be used not only to present information but also for storytelling purposes. This makes it ideal to provide children and young people with background information to a project or service.


Twitter is a microblogging site which has gained popularity worldwide and is estimated to have more than 200 million active users, generating 65 million tweets a day and handling over 800,000 search queries per day. It is sometimes described as the "SMS of the Internet". Twitter enables users to send and read textbased posts composed of up to 140 characters called tweets, which are displayed on the user's profile page. Users can subscribe to other users' tweets – this is known as following and subscribers are known as followers or tweeps ('Twitter' + 'peeps'). By default, tweets are publicly visible, though senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Twitter is free to use. Practical application: Twitter allows for near-instantaneous information updating, as well as sharing of links. At KCFN, twitter has been used not only to update followers with information, but also to consult with children and young people and to collect responses to surveys and questionnaires.

Tumblr is a microblogging platform that allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their ‘tumblelog’, a short-form blog. Users can follow other users, or choose to make their ‘tumblelog’ private. The service emphasizes ease of use. Tumblr is free to use. Practical application: Tumblr can be used in the same way as many other microblogging sites; to share information quickly and effectively to an audience. It can also be used in conjuction with survey and questionnaire applications to gather responses.

Foursquare is a location-based social networking website based on software for mobile devices. This service is available to users with GPS-enabled mobile devices, such as smartphones. Users "check-in" at venues using a mobile website, text messaging or a device-specific application by running the application and selecting from a list of venues that the application locates nearby. Each check-in awards the user points and sometimes "badges". As of March 2011, foursquare had 7 million registered users. Foursquare is free to use. Practical application: By adding a project, service or venue to foursquare, children and young people can be encouraged to visit these sites in order to gain points. As “check-ins” are publicised to users’ friends via social networking sites it can also be used to publicise to a wider group of children and young people.

Wordle allows users to create a ‘tag cloud’ which is a visual depiction of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, typically used to describe the content of web sites. Tags are usually single words and are normally listed alphabetically, and the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color. Thus, it is possible to find a tag alphabetically and by popularity. Wordle is free to use. Practical application: Wordle allows users to analyse text and produce an engaging visual of the keywords and core themes of a section of text. It can be useful to give children and young people the ability to identify key themes in large blocks of text.


Web heat maps can be used for displaying areas of a Web page most frequently scanned by visitors. These applications can include a visual heatmap of clicks on a HTML page, showing hot and cold click zones, where users click the most. Most heatmaps charge for use. Practical application: Heatmaps can be used to display what aspects of a website children and young people find most appealing and which areas of the site they visit most often.

Google My Maps lets users and businesses create their own map by positioning markers, polylines and polygons onto a map. Maps can be saved for later viewing and made public or marked as private. Each element added to a google map has an editable tag. This tag can contain text, rich text or HTML. Embeddable video and other content can be included within the HTML tag. Google My Maps is free to use. Practical application: Google maps can be used to provide an overview of the services and events happening across a geographical area. It can be used to allow children and young people to see what activities are available in their area, or for services to assess what other projects are being delivered in the area. KCFN has used Google My Maps to produce an interactive map of participation activities across the county.

A podcast is a series of audio or video that is released episodically and often downloaded through the internet. The mode of delivery differentiates podcasting from other means of accessing media files over the Internet, such as direct download, or streamed webcasting. Files are stored locally on the user's computer or other device ready for offline use, giving simple and convenient access to episodic content. Phonecasting is a portmanteau of ‘telephone’ and ‘podcasting’, and simply means recording and listening to podcasts with a phone. Traditionally, podcasters would require a microphone and recording software to create their programming, phonecasting replaces the microphone with a phone. Podcasting is free to use. Practical application: By its nature podcasting is more of a broadcasting tool than an engagement tool, though it offers children and young people the ability to access information at their own convenience.

Elgg is open source social networking software that provides individuals and organizations with the components needed to create an online social environment. It offers blogging, microblogging, file sharing, networking, groups and a number of other features. Practical application: Similar to Ning, Elgg can be used to set up your own social networking site around a specific issue. Elgg also offers extra applications for social networking.


Google Docs is a Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form, and data storage service offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Google docs is free to use. Practical application: Google docs allows users to collaborate on documents without even being in the same room, town or country. It can therefore be used to involve children and young people in feeding into documents, reports or plans.

Google Friend Connect is a free social networking site established in May 2008, but despite similarities with other social networking sites, it does not entirely function in a traditional way. The time and effort of a user is minimised as they do not have to register for new accounts and usernames. Once authenticated they simply use their existing profile and access a social graph when posting messages. This social graph feature allows message privacy by allowing a user to post a message on a third-party site but only allows it to be viewed by other authorised “friends� that are contained within their chosen social graph. An advantage for these third-party sites is they can distribute services with greater immediacy by using social-networking sites to contact users at the actual time they are using the site. This allows them to better share content that is relevant to the individual user. Google friend connect is free to use. Practical application: Google Friend Connect can allow a user to insert aspects of social networking sites into their pre-existing website with minimal worries about privacy. This can create a more interactive and more social aspect to an existing website.

Howcast is a website that provides instructional short-form how-to video and text content that combines practical information with various filmmaking techniques. Howcast partnered with Facebook, Google, YouTube, and others to host the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit in December 2008 that brought together 17 youth movements that had used social media to combat oppressive regimes. Practical application: Howcast is similar to YouTube, but with some key functionality differences. Howcast is more geared towards informative video and guides. Content created by or for children and young people can be shared using Howcast and presented in an easily accessible format.

SurveyMonkey enables users to create their own Web-based surveys. Multiple choice, single choice and text answers are all available. SurveyMonkey surveys are accessible on smartphones as well as via web links. SurveyMonkey offers a free service where users are restricted to 10 questions and 100 responses per survey, and different levels of paid service which remove these restrictions and add extra functionality. Practical application: SurveyMonkey is an excellent tool for gathering the opinions and responses of children and young people. As the surveys are web-based they can be disseminated via any online medium such as social networking or blogging.


Yahoo! Groups is one of the world’s largest collections of online discussion boards. The term Groups refers to an Internet communication tool which is a hybrid between an electronic mailing list and a threaded Internet forum. Group messages can be read and posted by e-mail or on the Group homepage like a web forum. In addition, members can choose whether to receive individual, daily digest or Special Delivery emails, or simply read Group posts on the Group’s web site. Groups can be created with public or memberonly access. Some Groups are simply announcement bulletin boards, to which only the Group moderators can post, while others are discussion forums. Yahoo! Groups service provides additional facilities for each Group web site, such as a homepage, message archive, polls, calendar announcements, files, photos, database functions, and bookmarks. It is not necessary to register with Yahoo! in order to participate in Yahoo Groups. The basic mailing list functionality is available to any e-mail address. Practical application: The mailing list and forum aspects of Yahoo! Groups mean that it provides an excellent space for online discussion between groups of children and young people. Yahoo! Groups can be used to compliment, supplement or in some cases replace offline meetings.

Skype is a software application that allows users to make voice calls and chats over the Internet. Calls to other users within the Skype service are free, while calls to both traditional landline telephones and mobile phones can be made for a fee. Skype has also become popular for its additional features which include instant messaging, file transfer, and video conferencing. Skype has 663 million registered users as of 2010. Practical application: Skype can be used to bring children and young people’s views into meetings and conferences when they may not be able to physically attend. This makes it useful when children and young people cannot attend (due to barriers such as distance, cost or time) but their input is still needed.

Reddit is a social news website. Users (also referred to as redditors) have the option to submit links to content on the Internet or submit posts that contain original, user-submitted text. Other users may then vote the posted links "up" or "down" with the most successful links gaining prominence by reaching the front page. In addition, users can comment on the posted links and reply to other commentators consequently forming an online community. Reddit users may create their own topical sections which appeal to a specific niche. Reddit is free to use. Practical application: Reddit is useful for publishing and promoting events or services. As users can rate posts “up” or “down” it also gives offers the ability to see what is popular.


Blogger is a very basic blog-publishing service that allows private or multi-user blogs with time-stamped entries. Blogger is free to use. Practical application: Blogger’s option for multi-user blogs allows for a children and young people to take a collaborative approach to sharing information. Blogger is a useful tool for broadcast and sharing, but has less scope for engagement.

Issuu is an online service that allows for realistic and customizable viewing of digitally uploaded material, such as portfolios, books, magazine issues, newspapers, and other print media. It integrates with social networking sites to promote uploaded material. Issuu's service is comparable to what Flickr does for photo-sharing, and what YouTube does for video-sharing. While most of the documents are meant to be viewed online, some can be downloaded and saved as well. Uploaded print material is viewed through a web browser and is made to look like a printed publication with animated page flips. Practical application: Issuu is a useful tool when publishing a report, document or any form of print media. As the material is stored online it allows for immediate sharing, whilst being presented in an engaging and realistic way. Magazines such as ‘The Right Stuff’ (a children’s rights magazine by and for children and young people) are published using issuu, which also allows the publisher to view statistics about when and how many times their document has been viewed.

Yola is a website builder and website hosting utility. People without any programming skills or a limited knowledge of HTML and graphic design can make web sites using Yola. Its drag and drop system allows users to incorporate widgets without needing to know HTML. Yola also integrates e-commerce and blog software and acts as a domain registrar. The basic package is free to use, with paid versions offering more customization. Practical application: As Yola is so easy to use it can be used by children and young people to create their own websites quickly and easily. As high-quality websites can be created for free with little or no knowledge of coding, Yola is also ideal for for services or organisations with little to no financial support.

Social Media Utilities Guide  

A brief guide to some key social media utilities as used during the 'Participation in a Virtual World' workshop at Step Up 2 Participation c...

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