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People Fine Tuning Social Networks To Meet Their Needs


Social networks on the Internet like Facebook and Myspace have been around for years. But more recently, a new trend has emerged in the social networking world.

People are creating smaller, theme-specific, and geographically defined social networks. From Portland, Elliot Ward reports.


Cliff Hansen used to think social networks were all the same. They were big, generic, and not particularly useful.

Cliff Hansen: "I wanted to create something a little more specific. Something going on a particular idea rather than a lot of the more general just friend based things."

And so, pdxpub.ning.com was born. It's a network that connects Portland State University students like Hansen to the local publishing world. Hansen says for the most part pdxpub functions like any other social network.

Cliff Hansen: "Someone else says hey you know we've got a conference coming up or there's a book event, I need some help at a table anyone want to come. We've all kinda got this common ground that we can share."

But while it looks like any other social network, what sets pdxpub apart is its focus.

Rick Turoczy: "We're just barely starting to see regional and metro specific social networking kinda starting to take hold."

That's Rick Turoczy. He writes Silicon Florist, a Portland technology blog. For him networks like Hansen's are about cutting through the internet clutter.

Rick Turoczy: "People more and more need to filter the information they're receiving and location tends to be the best way to do that "

Take pdxdog.com. It's focused very specifically on Portland. I met Andrea Schneider, the site's founder, at a coffee shop in the Pearl district.

Andrea Schneider: "The dog loving community in Portland is amazing. And the dog loving community likes to be a community—likes to talk to each other, likes to do things together, likes to share ideas—and we didn't have a forum for that.

Of course, websites about dogs already exist. There are even dog specific social networks.

So it's not the subject matter that makes pdxdog different. It's the focus on location. And it seems to work.

A search for Portland on two other dog networks yielded 23 members. Pdxdog has 572. Again, tech blogger Rick Turoczy.

Rick Turoczy: "What the local social networks tend to do is precipitate in person meeting and actual social interaction whereas some of the larger social networks may never move beyond an online interaction."

Pdxdog is already making those real world connections. Pdxdog founder Andrea Schneider says members have organized a playgroup, dog adoptions are coordinated through the website, and there's the story of Teddy. The black lab needed a place to stay while his owner had a baby.

Andrea Schneider: "It was one of our first real community efforts. And so, that generated a ton of conversations and people saying 'well, I'll take him for a week' and back and forth, and pretty soon she found the right home for Teddy for that period of time."

But social networking isn't just for meeting new people. Some groups are using the internet to give existing communities new ways to connect with each other.

Mike McDonald is a pastor at Solid Rock Church.

Mike McDonald: "You were able to have you know tons of conversations going on about what last Sunday was like what worked what didn't work. You got to see a kind of constant discipleship happen throughout those groups."

Solid Rock is big—about 2500 people. McDonald says it's easy to get lost in the fray. He credits the church's social network for getting people involved and connected.

Mike McDonald: "You see events popping up and you hear of, again, stories of people who are hanging out throughout the week and bible studies that are starting organically that aren't even being led through the church. You can just see how it's really allowed for communication and conversation throughout the community that normally would never be able to happen."

It all gets back to the idea of filtering. People are defining their networks more and more narrowly.

Publishers in Portland, a group of dog walkers, a secure bible study group — they're all looking for ways to share information they care about.

Tech blogger Rick Turoczy thinks the networks will get even more specific.

Rick Turoczy: "Probably in not too long you're going to see beagle owners in the Portland area, or Maine coon cat owners in the Portland area. I just think you're going to continue to see it be filtered until it reaches this kind of ridiculous level, and then you'll see a kind of balancing."

In the meantime, pdxdog founder Andrea Schneider says it's important to remember why these social networks are there at all.

Andrea Schneider: "People are looking for community, and I think the social networking phenomenon is one of the ways we're all attempting to belong, and to feel like we're a part of something."