Social networking: you may have heard of it. A social network is a Web site that allows people from all over the Interwebs to create their own profile and interact with others of similar interests. All the kids are doing it. And the kids' mums and dads, and their pets. And, apparently, nurses, goths, wannabe Jordans... everyone.
But with the bloated behemoths of the social network scene prompting hysterical headlines and user desertion, many people are looking elsewhere. That's where the niche networks come in. We've picked, in no particular order, 50 -- count 'em -- of the most obscure and bizarre social networks we could find.
MySpace is still standing purely through sheer weight of numbers despite a backlash against its hideous layouts and sprawling membership, while even the apparently unstoppable Facebook is slowing down. Bacn and zombies are turning people against the bigger networks, and anyone looking to downsize can look around for a network of friends that reflects their specific interests.
And there's something for everyone. We know: we checked. No matter how weird, worthy, dull or deranged you are, there's a social network for you. Click through and come with us on a tour of the more obscure corners of the Web, then tell us about your favourite niche network in the comments or our forums. -Rich Trenholm
Doctors, nurses and other smart people
Is there a doctor in the house?
Sermo -- Latin for conversation -- is a network for US physicians. The idea is that doctors share their knowledge from the frontline of medicine, so that trends, opinions and insights are disseminated (as pictured) through the medical community faster than the traditional publishing models.
Carry on nurse
NurseLinkup, a social network for nurses developed by itLinkz. itLinkz has 13 networks planned, each more niche than the last, including FirefighterLinkup. Which all the ladies in the office really like the sound of.
We Cravers see the Internet as an omnidirectional information exchange that could elevate humanity to an unprecedented plane of global equality, but we're not above using it to look at pretty ladies. Comely ladies -- and lads -- can network with photographers, agents and other lookers in the modelling industry at ModelMayhem.
Pretty ladies can earn cash from showing off their pretty lady bits at Zivity, currently in private beta.
...and the geeks
Sadly, clever people are often marginalised in the real world. Thanks to intellectConnect the brainboxes can get together to discuss algebraic combinatorics, thrash out the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem, and also ask around if anyone knows any pretty ladies.
Hobbies and pastimes
We like StoryMash: it's sort of like story consequences on the Intertubes. It also gives us a chance to hang round with real writers -- and nick their ideas.
Golfers of the world unite
itLinkz is also planning GolferLinkup, but in the meantime anyone who likes to spoil a good walk can book tee times and hang out in the virtual nineteenth hole that is LastMinuteGolfer, pictured.
If knitting is just too exciting for you, try MyFolia. Because the only thing more interesting than gardening is talking about gardening, right?
A bit higher... higher -- yeah, right there
MassageAlumni is a network for massage therapists. We've been on it for ages and we still can't see the section for 'extras'. Hmph.
When things go wrong...
Only when I larf
PatientsLikeMe is a space for the ill to discuss symptoms and relief for what ails them. Now this is what the Internet is for: information exchange between people who really need it. That, and hypochondriacs moaning.
In the best of health
Anyone with an interest in negotiating the vagaries of healthcare and self-diagnosis will benefit from OrganizedWisdom 's pooled knowledge. We're after a decent hayfever remedy...
Rehab is for quitters
They tried to make me go to SoberCircle -- a network for recovering addicts -- I said "No, no, no..."
Stay together for the kids
If you're a member of all of the above networks and Divorce360, pictured, all we can say is: cheer up, it might never happen!
Born to shop
If a spot of retail therapy could cheer you up, Yub is an online mall, where a profile allows you to shop, gain points, and help other users with their shopping to earn money for both of you. Cashback!
Geni, pictured, is a service that facilitates collaboration with your folks to build your family tree. Fun to see how long you can stick with it before an argument breaks out.
I hope I die before I get old
Eons is aimed at the baby-boomer generation, broadly those born between 1946 and 1964. As well as a social network, the site features cashback shopping options, because old people are tight.
Cash for questions
If you've got something to say, why not say it at Gather, which remunerates articles and features with reward points. That's how it works at Crave too, funnily enough -- anyone want to swap 3,000 Sharper Image points for some food? Please?
None more green
Today, it's all about saving the planet. Greenvoice is an online networking platform for people who are conscious about the environment, who can sign up to support assorted campaigns. If that sounds like your cup of tea -- Fairtrade, of course -- don't forget to check out our sister site SmartPlanet. And get a haircut, you big hippy.
...And other animals
Pets are a jealous bunch. They want everything we humans have -- including the opportunity to send each other virtual doggy treats, and superpoke each other into a yapping frenzy on Dogster. Probably.
The network that always lands on its feet
Meanwhile, cats can ignore feline friend requests with Facebook app Catbook.
A place for friends -- and pets
Seriously, we wouldn't be surprised if they're using MyCatSpace and MyDogSpace to get organised for the day they turn on us. Or just pouting into the mirror like everybody else.
Do animals dream of electric sheep?
In fact, there is a veritable zoo of social petworks out there, for animals of every stripe. Or spot, or fur. Meanwhile, HAMSTERster is the best name for a Web site ever.
Roll your own
Ning is a social network that allows you to create your own social network. Predictably this has led to a rash of user-created social networks so niche they're practically invisible to the naked eye. Our favourite so far is...
27. Save Justice League from Bad Casting
Created from the cosmic legends of the universe
Save Justice League from Bad Casting, a network devoted to debating who should play the Super-Friends in George Miller's forthcoming Justice League movie -- as if anything can stop that film from being a complete train wreck.
One more from Ning: CCTVblog, a network for people in the CCTV industry, and not for perverts. We hope.
Come and have a go...
Get a profile on Rivals4Ever, pictured, and pitch two things against other, then debate the outcome, like who would win in a deathmatch between Steve Jobs and the Incredible Hulk. Although it's mostly Bollywood stars as far as we can see. And our money's on the everlovin' . You wouldn't like him when he's angry...
Networkers, collectors, dreamers... and goths
31. Visible Path
Networking for networking's sake
Yes, Visible Path is a social network for people who want to use social networks. We would sign up, but we're worried the universe will fold back in on itself and be replaced by something that actually makes some sense.
Stay in the loop
Are you a clingy friend? If Twitter updates aren't enough, and you want to keep tabs on your mates all the blinkin' time, try Loopt. This friend-locator site uses GPS to turn your mobile into a homing beacon and shows you where your friends are on a map. Handy.
...Then we woke up, and it was all a dream. The end
Whenever Crave oversleeps by a few minutes, a dream arrives that sees us waking up and discovering we're hours and hours late, causing us to really wake up. Except this Tuesday morning, when we dreamt it was noon, but it was okay because we thought it was Sunday. Thanks a lot, body clock. Hey, if only there was a social network we could sign up to to see if other people have the same dreams. Oh, there is, it's called matchAdream.
35. Goth Passions
None more black
Meanwhile, for those too angst-ridden to actually sleep at night, wingèd denizens of the dark can haunt Goth Passions: because goths are people too. And they can spell, which is refreshing.
Places of worship
If you love trainers rather more than is healthy, indulge in a spot of Sneakerplay. Here you can show off your trainers and even go head-to-head -- or toe-to-toe -- with other members, in sneaker face-offs. Or should that be foot-offs?
FaithBook. Anyone? Anyone?
If worshipping trainers sounds frivolous, make friends with Jesus. The Xianz homepage trumpets itself as "the MySpace alternative for Christians! It's the Faith Based MySpace!" Now doesn't that sound like a barrel of laughs? Wait, come back!
From the good book to lots of good books: at Shelfari you can upload the books you have read and see them on a virtual shelf, add reviews, and make friends with other literary types. Personally we prefer books with pictures.
Comics fans can submit their own comics to Zuda, pictured, and vote on the work of others. We're tempted to do some kind of patronising "Holy clichéd gag, Batman!" reference here, but we're not that cheap.
We've got a crush on Obama
Speaking of superheroes, the likeliest candidate ever to be America's first black president -- apart from Morgan Freeman in that meteor movie -- even has his own social network, my.BarackObama. The home page sports a spiffy red button for making donations to the cause, if you can spare a bob or two. Whether Obama gets in or not, at least Bush is out on 20 January -- and 30 seconds later the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief.
41. Smoking Passions
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
Marginalised by society, hounded from pubs and clubs, the yellow-fingered stinky cancer-puffers can finally feel loved again at SmokingPassions.
Play your cards right
The growth of online poker and gambling gives rise to Gaambol, a network where you can upload hands from your games, and blog about how you played those hands. Doesn't include Solitaire, sadly.
Down the hatch
Finally, a niche network we can see ourselves joining! At least, we would join beer network Coastr if we hadn't hocked our computer for beer money. So we just went to the the pub instead. It's similar, but without the random abuse from strangers. Oh, wait...
If you're on one every weekend, check out AfterTheClub. It's a network for gurning mentalists with rubbish taste in music -- only kidding, clubbers.
Get your coat, you've pulled
So we've smoked up a storm, drunk ourselves into a stupor, and now thoughts have turned inevitably to the carnal. PositiveSingles is a social network and dating site for people with sexually transmitted diseases to hook up with other people with sexually transmitted diseases -- complete with drop-down menu listing what you're 'living with'. The Internet as a conduit for the socially marginalised to find meaningful companionship, or a breeding ground for some kind of super-Herpes? Frankly, this one just leaves us scratching our heads. And our crotches.
None more niche
And finally, a collection of the daftest social networks around, starting with Habbo, which hit the headlines when an enterprising young Dutch chap stole some virtual furniture, or something. Yes, this is a social network where you hang out with other kids and spend your parents' money on virtual furniture for a virtual hotel. Seriously, kids these days: they're barking.
Individual networks for people who live in the same actual building. Okaaayyyy. LifeAt boasts a selection of buildings, mainly in New York. If you live there, you can sign up and stop banging on the ceiling -- instead message the wasters in 34B demanding they turn the blinkin' music down.
Just plain wrong: Boobs...
Crave recently published a feature on tech that's just wrong. If we'd known about MyFreeImplants then, it would have been a one-page feature with just the word MyFreeImplants in really, really big letters. Girls sign up to the site and post pictures and videos to solicit donations from male, er, 'benefactors', in the hope of making enough money to get free breast implants, whereupon they are inducted into 'Hooterville'. There's just no words, really.
Meanwhile, hip-hop heads looking to avoid stereotyping can head for CrackSpace. It just writes itself, this one.
... And salsa!
Enjoy Salsa? Live in Brighton? You'll be wanting the inexplicably named Anderstand, a social network for people who enjoy Salsa in Brighton! Now that's niche.