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Last Updated: Monday, 24 December 2007, 08:09 GMT
Don't be lonely at Christmas time
Social networking sites could eventually eliminate entirely the need for the offline socialising that has become the cornerstone of the festive season.

Most people have heard of Facebook but there are plenty of rivals vying for its crown. The BBC News website dips into some of the more interesting alternatives in a bid to make sure that no-one need be lonely this Christmas.


Habbo hotel
Users create avatars and collect furniture

A good one for the teenagers as this virtual environment was created specifically for that age group.

The community was launched back in 2000 and combined the idea of a chatroom with an online game. It has recently had a makeover to improve access to personal pages, friends and groups and bring it more up to date for the generation most at home on social networking sites.

It allows users to create their own personalised Habbo character and dress it with accessories, including hats, belts, jewellery and facial hair, as well as gas masks, paper bags and hairstyles.

Users can also buy furniture to put in the various rooms it creates within the virtual hotel using credits bought with real-life currency

Earlier this month it teamed up with Greenpeace to see what its members thought about global warming.

Some 50,000 teenagers filled in the survey and 74% rated global warming as their biggest concern, ahead of drugs, war or violence.

The site now has, of July this year, more than 82m registered characters. According to Nielsen/NetRatings Habbo attracted an audience of 292,000 from the UK during the month of October.


Screen grab of Perfspot
Perfspot is aimed at university students and young professionals

Perfspot is a social networking site geared toward university students and young professionals, and its ethos is based on the desire to obtain a "perf" life.

It offers most of the usual features of social networking, including newsfeeds, customisable profile options and the option of linking photos to other users' profiles plus unlimited space to upload images and videos.

It hit the headlines in the late summer, becoming the fastest growing social networking site. In the months April to August 2007 it grew a massive 756%, compared to Facebook's 541% growth.

As the UK's fastest growing brand this year it is a good illustration of how social networks can come out of nowhere if they hit the right note with users.


Freecycle logo
Freecycle aims to reduce rubbish in landfill

If you have an interest in the environment and like the idea of reusing other people's junk, or have unwanted Christmas presents that you want to recycle then Freecycle could be for you.

The non-profit network is based on the premise that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" and is about harnessing the power of the internet to connect communities and 'gift' each other everyday objects that they no longer want.

It is a global network made up of over 4,000 groups. It now has in excess of four million members, and is adding 25,000 new members each week.

Each group is moderated by a local volunteer and the main thrust of it is to "reuse and keep good stuff out of landfills".

Each city has a unique e-mail group and anyone living in the area is welcome to post items to be given away or seek items that they want.


Screen shot of Webjam site
Webjam chief executive believes one-stop shops are way forward

A UK site that allows users to aggregate the best of the web in one central location.

A cross between a blog and a social networking site, Webjam allows novices to create webpages for a particular interest or hobby - say a bookclub.

It also allows people to keep all their social media, from Flickr photos to newsfeeds, in one place. This blend of aggregating, blogging and social networking has led to it being described as "the Swiss Army knife of the internet user".

It is particularly useful for those who want to create a webpage for a society, club or hobby but don't know how to do it as it allows you to 'copy' an existing group and personalise it.

According to chief executive Yann Motte, one-stop shops like Webjam are the way forward.

"Going forward it won't be possible for people to manage lots of different accounts," he said.


Screen shot of Capazoo site
Will the idea of paying users catch on?

This is a Canadian site which is interesting because of its business model.

Like other social networking sites it includes a variety of functions, including blogging and photo and video uploads but it also offers something unique - it pays users for the time spent on the site and the activities they do.

So for example members can get points for inviting friends and posting content.

Users can offer the points - known as Zoops - as gifts to other members.

The points accumulated by users can be redeemed for cash although to do this users must sign up to a membership program which costs either $24.95 or $34.95 per year.

It is a service that more social networking sites are likely to experiment with although the jury remains out on whether it will be a selling point for customers.


Screen shot of WAYN site
WAYN is aimed at those interested in travel
WAYN networking sites catering for a specialised audience - in this case travellers from around the world.

It was the brainchild of three friends - Pete Ward, Jerome Touze and Mike Lines, who came up with the idea to connect people based on their location.

Since its inception in 2002 it has grown and is now the UK's 10th most popular social network, growing from 45,000 users in March 2005 to over 10 million today.

It has recently announced partnerships with to integrate their hotel content and booking service and with to search for and book budget accommodation.

WAYN was initially launched as a paid service but in April 2007, it became free, though some functions remain available only to those willing to pay - for example, turning off advertising.

Like Capazoo it has begun offering users the chance to earn money. Members use a wizard to create wish lists of products they would like to own or recommend to others which are then displayed in their profile. When contacts or random browsers buy from their web shop the members receive commission from WAYN.

Alex Burmaster, analyst at research firm Nielsen Online believes that sites catering to specialist interests could be the future of social networking as they seek to distinguish themselves from the competition.


Screen shot of Realbuzz site
Realbuzz wants to have offline presence too

Realbuzz is a social networking site aimed at those interested in sports and outdoor pursuits. It is keen not to operate entirely in the online world and encourages members to meet up offline at sporting events.

"Realbuzz is not about people sitting behind their computers, it's all about them getting out into the physical world and experiencing something new," said a spokesman for the firm.

It has around 100,000 active users in the UK and has strong links to the London Marathon.

Chief executive Tim Rogers is himself a veteran of more than 60 marathons.

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