Talk Is Cheap: Social Networking That Actually Does Something

LinkedIn is a very strange beast. Every so often you'll see somebody really weird pop up having looked at your profile - such as having someone from the NBA or Madison Square Garden or even, at one point, the Shake Shack check me out. Which makes sense - the thing has grown to 85 million users in seven years. More interesting is the engagement, too - people do genuinely seem to respond to it and take it all rather seriously - I've reconnected with people in a far more meaningful manner than any number of waffly Facebook nonsense I've done over the years.

Which got me thinking about other social networks that actually seem to do something. While there are countless sites and people who will talk about Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr's presence (or lack thereof), there are also networks that exist almost in a vacuum of their own deliberate niche. We all work - but are all of us teachers, cooks or physicians? Or do all of us dedicate ourselves to charity? Nope. But believe it or not, there are social networks so niche that there is, it appears, something for everyone.

Learning
It turns out that there's a burgeoning industry in trying to make the lives of teachers and students easier. For example, Edmodo is a network specifically built for teachers and students, connecting them on a class, school or even district level. You can even assign homework and communicate with the class - basically a way of organizing an entire school out of a box. It's fantastic - much like HotChalk, which has similar functions and premium content distribution deals with the National Geographic, PBS, Scholastic and other publishers. Xplana is a network that connects teachers and students to resources - over 250,000 of them, to be exact - in all sorts of subjects, with an upcoming mobile edition. Ultrinsic is probably the most hilarious of them all - a way of gambling money on what grades you get and discuss doing so with each other. Personally, I think Facebook's caustic for anything to do with real school - these are more focused and more fun.

Social Good
Change.Org is a network that connects users with over a thousand non-profits to create petitions and join causes - giving people the power to actually take a stand on important issues with a well-connected D.C.-based company. Crowdrise is a gamified charitable social network where, as you fund and interact with different people's fundraisers, you gain points to compete with others to win prizes. It's probably one of the most badass ways to raise money. SocialVibe with a little more focus on discussing the issues and fundraising at hand.

Having Fun
This isn't all to say that social networks are brutal and issue-focused. Meetup.com is a reliable way to meet and interact with (with a focus on the latter) people in your city - I've personally attended several NYC-based events through it, and had a lot of fun. SlickDeals remains one of the most feverishly intelligent communities out there, discovering deals that nowhere else seems to even get a sniff for before they die a violent, cash-saving death. FanSpot remains a reliable location to discuss sports, though FanNation is slightly better-organized. If you play games - which I imagine people on the internet might do - Playfire has a growing and passionate community. Raptr is a personal favorite in that you can share what you're currently playing and see who's playing what - and Giant Bomb is a content site with a robust community set that connects to a number of gaming achievement services.

Miscellanea
Stockpickr is a full-scale investment social network, backed by financial site TheStreet. Bundle is a more anonymous network - one where you can share your financial data and compare it against people of your similar makeup in the area. BakeSpace is one of seemingly thousands of cooking social networks, but it's arguably the best-designed. You can even share recipes. DailyBurn seems to be the only professionally-designed fitness website left - and it's quite a good one, with its own and app and quite a community behind it.

In Conclusion
Someone today remarked to me that many social networks feel like an intrusion - that you're always pressured to keep up with the joneses. I have one suggestion - if you too feel this pressure, invest some time in a network with a point, and see if you'll be able to motivate yourself through guilt alone. Or the intrusion. I'm not sure. If only there was a social network for dressing better?

Oh, right, Fashionising. There's something for everyone, honestly.