How Facebook, TotSpot and Other Social Networking Sites Help Transform Traditions

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I wrote two stories recently for The Dallas Morning News about the ways that people are using social networking sites to transform traditions and connect with the world around them. One of the articles is about brides using Facebook to plan for their weddings. I got the idea for this story after my colleague’s fiance posted photos of her engagement, with detailed captions explaining how the engagement happened.

I started searching for Facebook wedding applications soon after seeing these photos and found that there are quite a few applications for soon-to-be brides and grooms. It was amazing to see how Facebook and MySpace are essentially replacing the need for traditional newspaper wedding announcements.

The other story I wrote is about moms who sign their toddlers up for social networking sites geared toward kids, such as TotSpot and Kidmondo. Moms actually create profiles for their children and write on one another’s walls, in essence assuming the identity of their kids. They write about “their” burps and farts, about their first steps, about how their nose scrunches up whenever they’re fed baby formula, etc.

When editing these stories, my editor, Mike Merschel, pushed me to think about the deeper meaning they relayed. We didn’t just want these to be articles that said, “Hey, look, this is a neat trend.” We wanted them to speak to something larger than that, perhaps to a universal truth that would resonate with the greater population, even with those who aren’t all that Web-savvy.

In thinking about this deeper meaning, I realized that in the case of the wedding story, social networking sites are transforming, if not replacing, traditional ways of planning weddings, making the process a more shared and open experience. In the case of the TotSpot story, social networking sites are acting as alternatives to traditional play groups and face-to-face parental interactions that some moms nowadays say they simply don’t have time for.

Nut graf for the Facebook wedding story: “Many soon-to-be brides and grooms have found that the sites do more than just make wedding planning more fun; they turn what has traditionally been a personal, behind-the-scenes process into a shared, and more transparent, experience.”

Nut graf for the TotSpot story: “The messages, of course, are from parents, usually moms, who say sites such as TotSpot provide them with time-saving alternatives to play dates and face-to-face relationships, while helping them connect with parents and children in nontraditional ways.”

For both stories, I found my sources on Facebook. I typed in “TotSpot” and “Wedding Book application,” for example, then searched through hundreds of users and sent messages to the Facebook members in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Each time I reached out to Facebook users, about 75 percent of them responded either with a phone call or a written message.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these articles. How else have people been using social networking sites in new and interesting ways?

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