Frightened by Facebook’s apparent lack of privacy and security? If you want to try another social-networking experience, there are several options for you to choose among -- some old, some new.
We’ve put together a list of the most appealing or familiar English-language “universal” sites, which gather all members into a central global space. There are also a few “roll your own” options that let users create their own social networks; think of them as mini-Facebooks open only to people sharing a common interest.
Of these, only a few approach Facebook in sheer number of users and international reach. (We’ve excluded foreign-language sites.) And only a couple seem to beat Facebook in security and privacy.
(Click here to read why you should quit Facebook.)
Bebo : American, but largely unknown in North America. Popular among the younger set in the British Isles and Down Under. Security is tighter than Facebook's, and the site’s operators stress privacy, but that may be why it’s never made much money. AOL recently sold Bebo for a staggering loss, and it’s unclear if the new owners plan changes.
NO WORSE THAN FACEBOOK:
Nexopia: Popular in western Canada with teenagers. Supposedly some infiltration by older creeps. Some spam and privacy problems.
Orkut: Developed and owned by Google, but got so big in Brazil its operations were moved there in 2008. Has had severe security issues in the past, still has a few.
Google Buzz: Built into Google accounts but rarely used. Had severe privacy holes a year ago, since patched. Not catching on.
Snabbo: For American Baby Boomers. Limited to people born between 1946 and 1964. Too small so far to be a target.
ASmallWorld: Only if you're rich and/or famous. By invitation only. Disparaged as "ASnobWorld” and called “Eurotrashy.” Target of a blackmailing attempt that threatened to reveal its membership list.
Friendster: The first big social-networking site, founded in 2002 and still around despite a mass exodus to Facebook around 2005. Near-death in North America offset by huge growth in East Asia. Security used to be horrible and still doesn’t seem great, judging by YouTube videos offering easy password hacks.
MySpace: Don’t even think about it. Security has always been terrible. Much-vaunted “customization” feature was introduced when a hacker exploited a hole in the page-scripting software.
ROLL YOUR OWNS:
Diaspora* (sic): Much-hyped effort by four college students to create a Facebook alternative, or “alternatives” since user-created and –hosted sites might not be able to contact each other. Still in development.
Ning: Started by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen in 2005. Lets paid users create their own networks hosted on Ning’s servers, with subscription costs relative to size. Free option discontinued. Security seems tight but company may be in trouble.
OneSocialWeb: Started by Vodafone, the British mobile-phone carrier that owns part of Verizon Wireless. An attempt to create one interface for multiple social networks. Still in development.
WebNetwork: Commercial scripting software that allows anyone to create and host their own social network. Settings are up to the clients’ administrators.
SocialGO: A British company similar to Ning, with a free ad-supported option as well as paid subscriptions.