You already MySpace. You're LinkedIn. Your slobbery canine even has a page on Dogster. But how many online social networks can you be on before it makes life too complicated?
Four, says Beth Simas, 24, a graduate student at the Univer- sity of California at Davis, who is a member of LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and inCircle, a community for Santa Clara University alumni.
"I don't even keep up with the ones I'm in. I rarely log on to all four during the month. It just takes too much time," Simas said.
We're hitting online networking fatigue as we navigate the plethora of social sites dedicated to everything from divorce or paganism to firefighting or animé.
"We've only got so much time in the day, and that's what it boils down to," said Fred Stutzman, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina's School of Information and Library Science. "You want to be there with your friends, you want to hang out with them, but when there are so many social networks, we can't really meaningfully spend time there. And if you're not getting meaningful interactions, then it's not all that fun."
More time spent at such sites
It's only natural that social interactions today have moved to the Web, since 65 percent of U.S. residents spend more time with their computers than with their significant others, according to a study by Kelton Research and Support.com. The average visit to a social network site lasts more than 21 minutes, up from almost 15 minutes last year, according to Hitwise, an Internet measurement company.
That's not counting the number of times a person visits those sites in a day.
"The purpose of social network sites is to hang out with your friends," said Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
Teenagers visit each other online because parents keep them from seeing each other in person as often as they would like, Boyd said.
College students use these sites as a procrastination tool.
And the highest online social network use for adults is during weekdays, when they're supposed to be working, Boyd said.
MySpace and Facebook con- tinue to dominate social networking: MySpace maintains about 72 percent of the market share and Facebook holds 16 percent, said Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise.
Other social Web sites, such as Bebo, BlackPlanet, ClubPenguin, GaiaOnline, myYearbook, hi5, Classmates and Yahoo!360, each claim about 1 percent or less of the market, she said.
Comes down to organizing
So, how do you decide where to spend your time? It's all about organizing your socializing, said Stutzman of the University of North Carolina.
If John Foley were to look for a birthday present for his wife, he would click around Pronto.com, the social shopping site, and look for someone with a similar style for ideas on what to get, he said.
The Web site is vertically focused and useful, not meant to compete with Web sites focused on "gratuitous communication," said Foley, who serves as the site's president.
"People don't go to Pronto every day like they do Facebook, but they do go to Pronto when they're shopping, to see what people like," he said.
But social networking simply to network still fulfills a purpose of staying connected, so connected that you know the minute your friends and acquaintances who live thousands of miles away update their profiles.
"Five hundred friends, that's not real. But we can have 500 contacts, people we've met who can provide some sort of value at some time," Stutzman said. "And to be able to keep them a few mouse clicks away is interesting. It's social capital, and that's important for things like getting a job."
MySpace still commands the numbers, but some believe users are letting their profiles idle there and moving to Facebook.
That movement is much like how people change the regular bars they go to during their lives, said Harvard's Boyd.
"You care more often than not about where your friends are than the bar itself. Social network sites look a lot like that," she said.