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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » November 18, 2009
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Virtual Poland
November 18, 2009   
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Social networking services are among the world's most frequently visited internet sites. Websites like Facebook, which has 300 million users, and MySpace, which has more than 250 million, are international giants, but national and local online communities are enormously popular as well. These services may be broad in scope and global in reach, like those mentioned above, or they may simply be the meeting place for the residents of a housing estate or for those who are into a particular genre of poetry.

Grono.net was Poland's first social networking site. It was launched in February 2004 and now has more than two million users, who can create their own profile once they have been invited to do so by a registered user. They can then send messages, create photo galleries, add films and share information about their current moods, occupations and other activities.

Nasza-klasa.pl has been a runaway success, even by the standards of Polish social networking sites. The site, which has been up and running since 2005, enables people to get and stay in touch with their old school friends and acquaintances. Nasza-klasa.pl was modeled on the American site Classmates.com but its popularity has eclipsed that of its prototype with more than 13 million active users on its books-an impressive figure, given Poland's total population of some 38 million. The portal regularly tops the most frequently visited site polls in Poland and its popularity fuels a great deal of sociological discussion and analysis.

There is practically no field that cannot be covered by social networking. You can look for your soul mate on dating sites like sympatia.pl and keep up with the latest gossip (and even add some of your own if you happen to be a registered user) on sites like pudelek.pl. If you are a budding journalist, you might want to submit your scoops to citizen journalism sites like wiadomosci24.pl. You can get to know your neighbors without leaving your apartment using sites like bliziutko.pl and even track down distant relatives and research your family tree.

We can thank moikrewni.pl for this last option. Moikrewni.pl is just one example of a website that has found its way to Poland from elsewhere. The idea originated in Germany in 2007 with verwandt.de. The Polish version started up in October 2007 and had 10 million Polish registered families a year later.

Moikrewni.pl lets you create a family profile and include your genealogy. One person sets up the profile and then calls on other relatives to assist. They, in turn, ask others and so on until the family tree is gradually built up through joint effort. The "surname map" option lets you pinpoint the concentrations of people with a given surname throughout the country. This facilitates obtaining information on the origins of the forebears of a given family. The portal has the same format in 14 countries so that relatives living abroad can be found more easily.

Browser games constitute another type of networking site. These are free online games that anyone with net access can play. You can register and then either choose or create a character. You can play individually or as part of a team. Playing with friends is the most common option. These types of games usually take place in a medieval, cosmic or fantasy realm.

Menelgame.pl made its appearance in Poland this year. The aim of the game is to move into a luxurious residence having started out as a homeless vagrant sleeping at a train station. The concept originated in Germany as pennergame.de last year. The game is the brainchild of two twentysomethings, Marius Follert and Niels Wildung. There is also an English, Spanish and French version. It has nearly half a million players in Poland.

Sociologists view social networking sites as a modern way of fulfilling our innate need to belong to a group. Making friends is a lot easier online than it is in the real world because it is easier to find someone who meets certain criteria, such as having common interests. Making friends online also lets us maintain a safe distance from people we do not know all that well.

Social networking sites are to some extent, however, an option for the lazy. Flopping down in front of a computer in a stretch tracksuit with a cup of coffee at the ready is all it takes. There is no need to even set food outside the front door. We would do well not to forget that meeting face to face is still an option.
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