NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
As recently as, say, five years ago, the idea of gathering online to meet likeminded folks seemed, well, a little silly. Who would you meet besides other geeks?
These days, it seems like half of the planet posts to online social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. These are Web sites where users can create profiles, add other users to friend lists, and share photos over the Internet. And now, online social networking is moving offline to what we more and more have to call the real world. And people are using these sites in new ways - to recruit business and employees, and as well here, to form networks of many philanthropists.
So, what are the new ways that you use online social networks? Later on in the program, forensic investigators identified the body of Egypt's famous woman pharaoh. But first, social networks redefined. Other than keeping in touch with family and friends, what do you use these sites for? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK, e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.
Caroline McCarthy is a reporter for CNET News.com. She covers online social networks and she joins us today from NPR's bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program.
Ms. CAROLINE McCARTHY (Reporter, CNET News.com): Thank you very much.
CONAN: And how is this world changing?
Ms. McCARTHY: Well, I think -that just the amount of coverage that social networks are getting in the news, and the way that they're spreading virally -people are beginning to mention them more and more as a part of everyday life -it's really moved on as something very, very mainstream, and it's no longer the domain of the early adaptors, or the geeks as you said. It's really becoming a part of everyday life to a point where - that we didn't even realize a year ago, I mean, a year ago, people were still talking about whether social networks would be a fad.
CONAN: Yeah. And it was also thought that this is the realm of teenagers.
Ms. McCARTHY: Yeah, not so much. You have social networks popping up that target all kinds of different demographics, many of which would not include teenagers at all, like LinkedIn is for business social networking, and there's Eons, which is geared toward the boomer generation, and all kinds of networks that are really - there's definitely something for everyone out there.
CONAN: Are these separates sites or are these functions within these big places like MySpace and Facebook?
Ms. McCARTHY: Many of them are separate sites. There are plenty of smaller-niche social networking sites for everything, from cat owners to cake baking enthusiast. And then, within big social networks like MySpace and Facebook, often you can create interest groups and join the discussion on there.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Also, there seems to be another new phenomenon, and that is people using these contacts to actually - then go ahead and meet people in the real world. We heard about meet-ups of course during - famously during the Howard Dean campaign, but this is something - this is a new development.
Ms. McCARTHY: Sort of, yeah. I mean, Meetup was really where it began to start getting mainstream press, and where people really began to realize that the online world was an effective way for mobilizing groups of people offline that perhaps had some kind of niche interests that wouldn't normally have been able to connect as well. If you go on meetup.com, a lot of their most popular meet-ups are for subcultures that those people might not necessarily had been able to find each other before.
CONAN: And, well, anyway. Now, with all these new sites coming on, is this seen as a challenge by the big, I guess, now established sites?
Ms. McCARTHY: Well, the thing about these new sites, especially those that are focusing on people interacting offline, many of the sites where there's a lot of offline interaction like, for example, yelp.com, which is a restaurant and bar and business review site.
When you have something that's focused on locations like that - Yelp is located in about a dozen or so U.S. cities, major cities - and that way, it makes easy for people to interact offline because they're all in such close proximity to each other to begin with.
But with something like MySpace that just has that kind of global reach, I think there's merit to the fact that people can connect with people on the other side of the world in addition to being able to connect to people near you and meet up with them. So I think they fill different roles.
CONAN: And you mentioned that as recently as a year ago, we were wondering if these - were these are going to be just fads. And evidently, advertisers don't think so.
Ms. McCARTHY: Absolutely not. I think that there is still some question as to the most effective way for advertisers to profit using social networking sites. So that's really still up in the air. One of the traditional Internet banner advertising is the best model. But…
CONAN: To how they do it is a question. Whether to do it or not, that doesn't seem to be a question.
Ms. McCARTHY: No, I mean, this is a phenomenon that's really here to stay, the web is a very, very social place now in pretty much any way you can imagine -people looking for jobs, people looking for business contacts, people looking for dates or happy hour buddies or just friends.
CONAN: Yeah. Let's see if we can get a caller in on this conversation. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail email@example.com. Our guest is Caroline McCarthy of CNET News.com. Let's get Paula on the line. Paula is with us from Elizabeth, Colorado.
PAULA (Caller): Good afternoon. Thank you, Neal. I always love your program.
CONAN: Thank you for that.
PAULA: I'm an avid user of these social networks for a number of things. I'm a trainer, both for horses and dogs, and if I ever get stuck with a training problem, I can post the message up on one of my training networks and get a myriad advantage from lots of experience. I also do combined driving, which is carriage driving to the max, and I have a great group of people that I interact with online for that hobby.
And I also ride dressage with my horse, and there's a giant dressage bulletin board out there. And we had fun this past spring. A bunch of us met up in Las Vegas for the FEI World Cup for dressage, and it was a riot to meet these people that we've known only through our online life.
CONAN: So, you actually went ahead and met these people that you previously regarded as virtual people?
PAULA: Yes. And it's funny because even though they're virtual people, you end up talking about so many different things. You really feel like you know them even before you meet them. And of course, you've always got something in common.
CONAN: And Paula, you mentioned bulletin boards. Bulletin boards on the Net are - well, this ancient history - how are these new networks different and better?
PAULA: Probably because they're so widespread, and with private messaging, you can obviously contact a member individually and not publicly. And with the archives - I'm on another list for equine reproduction, the archives they are just fantastic source of information.
CONAN: Yeah, and those new features that Paula's talking about, Caroline, they do make this little much easier to use and more flexible?
Ms. McCARTHY: Absolutely. I think that one of the biggest differences between the old bulletin boards and the newer social networks is the fact that you can build your own network of contacts through a social network in the way that you couldn't with use in other traditional bulletin boards. You can amass a friends' list. You can join groups within the network. You can share photos. It's much more of a personal experience.
CONAN: Well, Paula, thanks very much.
PAULA: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.
PAULA: Thank you.
CONAN: Online social networks have - like LinkedIn, have changed the way people connect in the business world, as we have mentioned. Catherine Holahan is a staff writer for Business Week. She's with us also from NPR's bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. CATHERINE HOLAHAN (Staff Writer, Business Week): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And we'll get the mic up in just a second. What is LinkedIn?
Ms. HOLAHAN: LinkedIn is a network for business contacts and business professionals to meet one another and network in their industry or meet people in the industry they'd like to go into. And the people do business recruiting. They check people's backgrounds, you know, see if you have mutual connections there that then you can say how was this employee; we're they good to work for?
CONAN: So it's a lot more than just a very sophisticated way to hand out and gather business cards?
Ms. HOLAHAN: No, it's a lot more than that. In fact, you can get access to business cards that you would never have had it before because you can either search for - if you get a premium account, you can search for people according to their experience and contact them that way or you can say, hey, I used to work with these people and let's see who they know and connect with people that way.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So people use it, as we heard it in the clip of tape in the introduction to this program, for recruiting purposes and to drum up business as well?
Ms. HOLAHAN: Yes. You can - they advertise on the site and there are portions of the site where you can go on and say what's - I want to look for a dentist in my area. And you click on a dentist and they'll show up with a whole bunch of dentists that would like your business.
And then you can see who their contacts are and see if you know any people mutually, who you can say, hey, what kind of dentist is this person? Should I give them my business?
CONAN: And would just be glad that Yelp is not a dentist review site?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. McCARTHY: You can review dentists on there, I think, but it's a little more casual than LinkedIn's network.
CONAN: Well, let's change the name from Yelp, at least the dentist association would want to. But Catherine Holahan, are sites - it sounds like sites like this could begin to change the way people do business?
Ms. HOLAHAN: That's certainly what they're hoping. And it's not just LinkedIn. You know, LinkedIn is getting some competition now as people are seeing the success of that site.
There is a site in Europe called Xing, that's coming out of Germany, that's trying to do something similar. And they have, I believe, about 3.5 million people primarily in Europe and - and they're a growing number in the U.S. and they're certainly trying to cash in on that market as well.
CONAN: So one of the advantages it immediately gives you is vastly - access to vastly more people than you might ever reach by phone or in person in your whole life?
Ms. HOLAHAN: Oh, certainly. I mean, I look at my roll-a-decks and yeah, I might have a couple of hundred people in there, but they're a few million people on some of these social networks.
CONAN: roll-a-decks, what a quaint term.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: We have to change all of these - your phone list that it happens to be on the bunch of cards in a little - anyway, you'll find it in the Smithsonian pretty soon. And as these business sites - does it give you the ability, as you say, not only to find out about a group of people, but then to get these reviews and get personal recommendations or denunciations if that might be the case?
Ms. HOLAHAN: I think so. I think references are becoming more and more important as, you know, people when they hire somebody, it's sometimes difficult to get rid of that person once they're actually in your organization, so you want to make sure that you make a good hire.
And this is the way to say, hey, maybe I trust this person and they have somebody else who they trust who has worked with this person and I can go through my network that way to really find out things that otherwise you wouldn't - that wouldn't come up in the normal background check.
CONAN: Catherine Holahan, I'm sure those people at Business Week have no regrets about you at all.
Ms. HOLAHAN: I hope. I certainly hope not.
CONAN: Catherine Holahan is a staff writer at Business Week. She joined us from NPR's bureau in New York. Thanks very much for your time today.
Ms. HOLAHAN: Thank you.
CONAN: We're going to continue our conversation with Caroline McCarthy of CNET News.com about these new social network sites, a lot of this new niche sites. How do you use these networks now? 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: One of the new ways that you use online social networking at sites like MySpace, or also LinkedIn, Twitter and others reaches the old fashion way. 800-989-8255. E-mail email@example.com. You could share your stories on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.
Caroline McCarthy is with us. She covers social network for CNET News.com.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Levi(ph). Levi is with us from Kentwood in Michigan. Levi, are you there? Nope? Never mind.
Let's see if we can go to another caller. This is Nancy. Nancy is with us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.
NANCY (Caller): Hi.
NANCY: I just wanted to say that the Internet has changed my life. There's no doubt about it. I met a lot of - several women on a group called cruise critic. And we all enjoy cruises. And through that group, we have - a group of us, of 11 of us, have become very, very close. We recently met in person in Las Vegas. We're planning another group trip together.
NANCY: We listen to each other's stories. We help each other. We support one another, all online. It's just been the most amazing experience of my life.
CONAN: And these are people from all over the country?
NANCY: All over the country, a couple in Canada - three in Canada, and all socio-economic backgrounds, education levels - just people that we happen to like cruising, and that's how we met.
CONAN: Uh-huh. And was it interesting when you finally met these people alive for the first time?
NANCY: It's beyond interesting. Every single one of them went way beyond our expectations. We are a very close-knit group. Just - we call ourselves sisters of the heart and that's truly, truly what we are. And I don't think any of us expected it. I think the oldest of us is 76. I'm the baby at 43.
NANCY: And one other baby - one of us is younger than me, but it's just a neat experience because I would never know these women if it not - were not for the Internet.
CONAN: And that's interesting. Caroline McCarthy, these groups can be very large or very small like Nancy's?
Ms. McCARTHY: Yeah they can.
CONAN: Nancy. Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Ms. McCARTHY: No, go ahead.
CONAN: All right. I was just going to say thank you to Nancy. That's all. Have something to add? Well, we'll be happy to hear.
Ms. McCARTHY: I was going to say it seems like Las Vegas is the place to meet up.
CONAN: It does seem that Las Vegas is the place to meet up. And I'm - it's almost like a cruise - mini-cruise itself there, Nancy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NANCY: It's, sort of, like a carnival cruise.
Ms. McCARTHY: Yeah.
CONAN: Yeah. All right. Nancy, thanks very much and you have a good time watching the bouncing waters at the fountains.
NANCY: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Now, we're going to try to get Levi back. Levi is with us in Charlotte, North Carolina. Are you there this time, Levi?
LEVI (Caller): Oh, yeah.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead please.
LEVI: I'm actually in Kentwood, Michigan.
CONAN: All right. Never mind. I was misinformed.
LEVI: I was just calling to say I've heard few discussions about MySpace in the past and I'm surprised I've never really heard anyone talk about how artists and especially musicians are using the network.
LEVI: You pretty much can't book a tour anywhere unless you have at least a MySpace or a PureVolume account to show these venues, you know, what kind of a band you are and, you know, so they can listen to your music and stream it. And it's just really difficult anymore that no one wants to be e-mailed mp3s or anything like that. They can just go to sites like MySpace and listen to your songs and see what else do you have going on.
CONAN: And where else you've played, and who else has hired you, and that sort of thing?
LEVI: Right, right. And, you know, your discography and if you've done anything in the past - because some places are, you know, they won't give you a show unless you know what you're doing. So…
CONAN: So that means one member of the band has to be a graphic designer of some sort.
LEVI: Right, right, right. Well, it's actually really easy. I found it really easy to build profiles on MySpace. But…
CONAN: Easy for you maybe.
LEVI: Maybe, yeah.
CONAN: But it sounds like this has changed the entire industry?
LEVI: Yeah, for sure. It's almost - like I said, it's standard when you write someone to get a show, when you're planning a tour across country, or even internationally, especially internationally. It really helps to have one of these accounts, so you'll hear about.
CONAN: And does this work for, Levi, for, you know, a really big bands like, you know - I don't know, you know, certainly, the Rolling Stones don't necessarily need this kind of publicity but tiny bands, they really do?
LEVI: Well, like, I use the term big Indie a lot, like, still on an independent label but the bigger bands on these Indie labels that are getting coverage and - I don't know, Rolling Stone and Spin, at the most, or CMJ. Even they use these networks at least to connect with their fans. And I'm sure at some level, they're still using them to get shows and book tours, and what not. So…
CONAN: I like to see the friend's page for Mick Jagger. (Unintelligible)
LEVI: Right, right.
CONAN: All right, Levi. Thanks very much for the call. Good luck.
LEVI: Thank you.
CONAN: What's the name of your band, by the way?
LEVI: Spit for Athena.
CONAN: Okay. Easy for you to say. Thanks very much.
LEVI: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And Caroline, that seems to be a fundamental change.
Ms. McCARTHY: It's very true. I think that - I think the main reason why music on MySpace has gotten so big to the point of being industry changing is that - having a MySpace page is like using a universal language for a band because if you're a small band and you build your own Web site, first of all, you're going to have to pay for the hosting and you probably going to have to pay a graphic designer. So that might be out of the - out of a very small band's league.
But then also, there is the fact that with music sharing and music downloading, video streaming, you're really going to want to have music, if not, video and other media content available for your listeners. And there are ton of different audio formats and video formats out there. Some of them are not compatible with everyone, but you know that if you put your music on a MySpace page and plays it on that MySpace page, it's going play for just about everybody with an Internet browser. So it's really - it's a way to reach everybody, not to mention the viral spread of things.
Ms. MCCARTHY: If you see that someone has a band listed on their MySpace friend's list, you might click on it, you might learn about the new band.
COHAN: Hmm. Here's an e-mail from David in Syracuse, New York. Any concerns about these networks allow employees to gather information that they could not get in an interview or get references they would not get in phone call?
Ms. MCCARTHY: Well, people definitely have to be careful. And I think that's something that people are learning more and more about is that with some of these social networks, you can - for good reason, make your profile visible only to people whom you have already approved as a friend. And I know plenty of people who have photographs on their MySpace or Facebook profiles that they would not want prospective employers to be seeing.
CONAN: And there, you can set up so different levels of friend. You can be a distant relative or a kissing cousin?
Ms. HOLAHAN: You know, I have not seen a whole lot of social networking sites incorporating different levels of friends. I know that, for example, the blogging service LiveJournal, you can set different levels of friends and specify exactly who can read what you post. But with MySpace, either you're a friend or you're not a friend. And with Facebook, either you're a friend, a limited friend or not a friend, so it's a little more stratified there.
CONAN: Online social networks are also helping people find new ways to help other people. Tom Watson is the publisher of onPhilanthropy.com and he's with us here in Studio 3A. Tom, nice to have you on the program today.
Mr. TOM WATSON (Publisher, onPhilanthropy.com): Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: And you found a creative way to use network - social networking in pursuit of philanthropy.
Mr. WATSON: Yeah. Neal, if philanthropy is sort of the gathering of people behind causes, then social networks are definitely the next step in the advancement of those causes, I think. And I think, particularly with young people - but not limited to young people - that as they seek to organize behind causes, ranging from the soup kitchen down a street to stopping the genocide in Darfur, they are more and more using these various tools to help to raise money, but more - not just money, actually - to actually gather people to the cause.
CONAN: And give us - for instance - for instance, it's very close to your heart.
Mr. WATSON: Well, there's this one social network called Kiva.org. And it allows you to make microloans directly from people like me to folks in third world countries. And so my daughter and I - she's 15 - have sort of a little Kiva project going, where we have invested about $250 in a series of small businesses, and have been able to see the fruits of our investment actually, sort of, come to life.
CONAN: And when you say see the fruits of - you actually see it.
Mr. WATSON: You actually see it. I mean, you can go on that site and read about the folks you are lending money to. There's this one woman in Mexico, in a rural district in Mexico - and I picked Mexico because I kind of wanted to put my real money where my political mouth was on that issue. And I think we lend her $25 or $50. She's already started paying it back. She wanted to expand her business to carry party supplies. Very, very big part of a growth area down there. She is in her 40s. She's divorced. She has eight kids. And it's just a terrific feeling to be able to do that.
And then, what's - another interesting part of it, which is not totally developed yet and I think a lot will see what social networks just still coming down the pike, but you get to see the other people, who've also made the loans. So it's people like you and me and you can read the profiles and you can talk and interact and talk about the, you know, the cause.
CONAN: And presumably, you could act in concert the best time.
Mr. WATSON: Yes, you can. I'm not sure whether that's happened yet. This is relatively new. But I could see where, you know, you could form these, sort of, virtual banks where you and your friends - whether they're real-life friends, virtual friends or combination of both - could actually take on, you know, an entire small business project.
And obviously, you found Kiva.org to, you know, from your site. How did that woman in Mexico find Kiva.org?
Mr. WATSON: Through Kiva partners with on-the-ground agencies in each country that actually administer the loans, do the site visits, run the applications, you know, go through that whole process.
CONAN: And when you say it's interesting particularly for young people, your daughter at 15 now gets to see how her money - she probably thinks of it as her money - works in action.
Mr. WATSON: She does, indeed. Yes, she does. And interesting about this is it kind of crosses the borders between these social networks. It's not just one sort of walled garden. There's a big Facebook group about Kiva. So people who are Kiva lenders are gathering on Facebook to discuss Kiva and it sort of breaks through that way, so you kind of crossover, which I think is a very, very strong thing to happen.
CONAN: And as this develops, how do you think it's going to change philanthropy?
Mr. WATSON: I think it's going to have a very strong impact on philanthropy. You know, the latest giving figures in the U.S. just came out this week - $295 billion given away. Philanthropy has been pretty much flat here in the U.S.
CONAN: It's you and Bill Gates, right?
Mr. WATSON: It's me and Bill Gates.
Mr. WATSON: It's been about two percent of GDP since they have started to measure it. And one of the problems is that how do you gather more folks to philanthropy? How do you gather more people around causes? And if there's a short cut, be it technological or not, to sort of gather more people on there. I think the number of profits are going to, you know, starts, you know, start to grab onto it.
CONAN: And this is also quite different from giving your money to one of these big umbrella organizations - the Red Cross, for example - where you might not see where your money actually goes. You have more insight into where it actually goes, where it gets used for.
Mr. WATSON: Yeah, I think the whole concept of openness in philanthropy, of folks being able to see where their money goes, is a big part of this. And actually, I think the larger organizations have a stake in this. I think that institutions like the Red Cross, if they embrace the social networking tools, can actually achieve some of that transparency that critics have said, you know, has generally lacked and I think they should embrace this.
CONAN: Tom Watson, thanks very much.
Mr. WATSON: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Tomorrow Watson, the publisher of onPhilanthropy.com. He joined us here in studio 3A. We're talking about new ways of using social networks. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Caroline McCarthy is still with us, a reporter for CNET News.com. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Marcy, Marcy with us from San Francisco.
MARCY (Caller): Hi.
Ms. McCARTHY: Hi.
MARCY: How are you? I love, love, love, NPR.
CONAN: Oh, thank you.
MARCY: Well, I am the online publisher and editor-in-chief of a magazine called Root Magazine: Global, Dance, Culture, Where Humanity Comes Together in Movement. And our address is rootmag.typepad.com. And I find my writers, my musicians and dancers through MySpace and TribeNet, online forums and chat rooms and…
CONAN: Wait. You find dancers on MySpace?
MARCY: I do. I find dancers online. There's a huge network of dancers that talk about their trials and tribulations of the business, costumes…
CONAN: But how do you audition a dancer online?
MARCY: Oh well, that's very easy. A lot of dancers are uploading videos and -specifically on their MySpace pages. So I can see what their troupe does, what they look like, solicit them for possible articles in magazine, find about their influences, their loves, their travels, everything. And I've got connections in Africa, Amsterdam, South America, you name it.
MARCY: It's wonderful.
CONAN: And so this has changed the way you do your business.
MARCY: Exactly. It's absolutely incredible and I find to talk this (unintelligible) as well. So I have to say that without social networking sites, I would be a little bit in the dark on research. And, you know, answers that I have regarding, you know, certain things that might be culturally sensitive, I can immediately go to these online forums and networking sites and ask these questions and get answers (unintelligible).
CONAN: All right, Marcy, we're losing your phone, so…
CONAN: Thanks for the call.
MARCY: All right.
CONAN: Let me turn to Caroline McCarthy. We keep hearing, you know, dancer, magazine - we keep hearing about - this is slowly changing the way a lot of people run their lives.
Ms. McCARTHY: Absolutely. Yeah, it's just there. There's this massive amount of information out on the Internet and there are just loads and loads of people using it on a regular basis for their personal and professional lives.
And social networking sites really help people put a face out there to themselves, to project themselves out there, so that - I mean, even if they're not intending for people to find them, maybe they are, that organizations, publications, people looking for a particular kind of talent can find them that way.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in. This is Diana, Diana from Flagstaff, Arizona.
DIANA (Caller): Hi there.
DIANA: I was just calling to mention how it's being used educationally as well. I'm a teacher at a middle school and there is a social networking site called Ning, N-I-N-G that has a group called Classroom 2.0 started by a guy named Steve Hargadon that brings together teachers to talk about the impact of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom and how to use them more effectively, and research-based ideas for bringing those into the classroom successfully.
CONAN: So you're at least to have a modicum of technical knowledge to get on MySpace before you can do all these stuff.
DIANA: Yeah, MySpace isn't something that we can use educationally, but the Ning site, does allow for protecting students and then also just for the teachers to get together to discuss best practices for using technology tools in the classroom.
CONAN: That's fascinating, Diana. Thanks very much. And just in conclusion, Caroline McCarthy, it sounds like people have taken what is essentially this great tool and fashioned it for their own purposes.
Ms. McCARTHY: Absolutely. I thought that it was interesting, the last caller had mentioned Ning. Ning is essentially a site where you can create your own social network like the Classroom 2.0 network. It is so that it's a little more functional than a group created in MySpace or something.
And you can assemble your own group of people without necessarily needing to find a social network for that. You can go out there and you can be proactive and you can create your own, and then you can network with people anywhere. It really is a phenomenon now that the early adaptors have solidified it. And now that some of the kinks have worked out - have been worked out with regard to safety, and adding safety is still an issue. But, I think, now that it's been mainstreamed and road-tested, I think that it's certainly (unintelligible).
CONAN: Carolyn McCarthy, a reporter for CNET News.com. Thanks very much. She joined us from our bureau in New York. Egypt, when we get back. This is NPR News.