Interesting paper at First Monday reporting on the results into a study of K-12 needs and users on the Internet.
The advantages of SNWs are five–fold. First, they are more likely to save time and energy than supply–oriented sites. Instead of spending a couple hours doing trial and error excavations, the user may take 10–20 minutes doing a few custom matching searches, type a few e–mail messages, and then logoff. Secondly, SNWs lead to more precise results than using a search engine or some supply–oriented site. Individuals have a capacity to reason and share experiences. Reasoning and sharing are inherent to the SNW model. Reasoning and shared experience allow for customization and tackling situational questions. Third, the social networking Web site fosters an environment that encourages informal learning. While expanding knowledge bases, social networking sites facilitate contacts to help bridge understanding and enhance judgment. Research has shown that casual acquaintances, sustained by “weak ties”, are more likely than strong relationships to offer pathways to new and varied information . Fourth, rather than posing as direct competition, social networking will complement supply–oriented sites. The simplest use of a social networking site is to find reference information. As relations develop, users may be pointed to primary sources, whether they are other individuals, K–12 supply–oriented sites, or off–line K–12 organizations. Finally, to some degree, relationships should prosper. This would be beneficial at the individual level in terms of resources, peer support, elaboration, corroboration, collaboration, mobilization, or organization. Communities should also benefit as SNWs foster social exchanges and carry potential for K–12 civic–building.