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The sites have simplified and amplified connections between people online, creating a thriving ecosystem of small programs that let friends interact through games, greetings, video clips and more.

Nonetheless, a fundamental challenge is that the networks often are "walled gardens," closed to the rest of the Web. Avid Internet users must maintain separate accounts on different social networks, blogs, photo-sharing sites and instant-messaging services. In each case, they must invite the same friends to each separate service.

Last week, both MySpace and Facebook addressed the issue by announcing they will soon let users share profile data with other websites.

"We're taking those walls down," says Amit Kapur, MySpace's COO.

Facebook will let members take their personal profiles to any website that wants to host them. For now, MySpace is opening user profiles only to a few sites, including Yahoo and eBay.

Facebook's ambitious plan to reshape advertising — via a new approach to social marketing, called Beacon — was a bust. The idea was to inform friends whenever a Facebook member purchased something from online retailers. When consumers protested its invasion of privacy, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the miscue and promptly apologized.

"There needs to be an AdWords for (social networks)," says David Carlick, a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, referencing Google's ad system that displays text ads related to search terms.

MySpace last month forged partnerships with major record labels Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Vivendi's Universal Music Group to offer its 117 million members tickets, ring tones and artist merchandise.

Driving a good chunk of sales is a project launched last summer called HyperTargeting, software that mines the profiles of MySpace users to deliver ads tailored to their interests.

Hundreds of advertisers are part of the program, including Toyota and Taco Bell. Another income source is the sale of mobile ring tones and ads.

MySpace isn't through. It is "definitely looking into subscription services" and emerging international markets such as India and Japan, says CEO Chris DeWolfe.

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LinkedIn means business with new application platform

Twitter is a good place to follow other people. As a courtesy, some of these people will also follow you, therefore Twitter may be a good place to quickly get your words out. However, it is hard to search for people who have certain keyword in their job title. See the Twitter page for ways to connect to people.

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