How to Network on the Web

A quick guide to the most useful sites

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Your "network" used to refer to folks you played golf with, encountered on the volunteer circuit, or met regularly for cocktails. These days, chances are your network also includes a lot of online connections—and maybe even people you've never met.

Networking sites like LinkedIn, Myspace, and Facebook are used by nearly half of all professionals to look for jobs, connect with colleagues, get advice, and find customers. Niche sites, catering to professionals with similar interests, are popping up all the time, too: Eons is for baby boomers, Doostang is for alumni of elite colleges, and Inmobile is for people in the wireless industry.

Online networking, in other words, is becoming a career imperative. But where to start? To help guide busy professionals to the sites most likely to suit their needs, we've put together a tip sheet on four of the most popular networking sites. Facebook, for example, lets users control who sees their profile or parts of it, which helps cultivate separate personal and professional networks with a single profile. LinkedIn can help you find a job or make a sale—if you abide by the site's unwritten rules and don't get yourself delinked. You might even meet some helpful contacts through your avatar on SecondLife—once you learn what an avatar is. In the graphic below, click on the topic in the left-hand column to get info on each site: