4 Ways to Open Your Social Circle Cyber-Style

For female bonding today, the Internet is a girl's best bet. Moving to a new city? Looking for a career change? Want some fun new friends? Meeting new people is easier than you think! Your virtual options are vast -- and here are four to get you started:

It's Mutual

When it comes to meeting people, some favor the anonymity of the Web, while others find it disconcerting. So why not go through mutual contacts? Lynda Radosevich is VP Communications for Visible Path, a company that creates software to connect people through sets of colleagues. She says, "Women have traditionally been more hesitant than men to tap their social network for opportunities. But in the past year or so, there's been an upswing in new technologies that's closing that gender gap." And she has a success story of her own: Recently, Lynda was assigned a project for which she had to choose a known sales expert for a market research report interview. Through Visible Path's database of who knows who in the business world, she discovered that she has a contact in common with the CEO of a very influential sales consulting company. "I called him, and we were granted an interview within a few days," she says. "My natural tendency would not have been to go straight to the CEO -- and whether that's because I'm a woman or not, who knows -- but knowing I had a common contact made me much more comfortable, and that's something technology is enabling."

Lynda adds that there are always opportunities for overlap between networking for business and meeting people for fun; you never know where your new relationships will lead, be it romance, your dream job or a lasting friendship. To make casual connections through your pals instead of your business associates, Lynda recommends Friendster.com, which, like Visible Path, is based on meeting new acquaintances through people you already know. Friendster spokesperson Lisa Kopp says, "In a time when we're all so busy and don't have time to go to dinner parties or join a book club, we value our friendships just as much and are still looking for outlets to form new bonds with other interesting women." She says people use the site's elaborate profiles to find like-minded women for exchanging experiences and advice. "On Friendster, we see women looking for reviews of music and movies, vacation planning input, even job leads. It's a trusted source."

Girl Talk

Website message boards are another popular means of connecting with new people, and they're used for a variety of reasons, ranging from recipe swapping to getting sex advice. "Asia T," an iVillage message board member since 1998, has used the site to make friends across the country -- and even in her own neighborhood. "I met two people in my area through Parent Soup [a division of iVillage]. One of the two women lives only three miles from me, and we went to the same high school during the same years! It was a large school so we didn't know each other then," she says. Asia finds striking up these electronic conversations is simple when you have things in common. "Aside from talking about parenthood, talking about my home business is a wonderful way for me to meet other women who are doing the same -- or for those who aren't doing home business yet but are curious about getting started," she says.

Where's the Party?

Evite.com is a site featuring electronic invitations people can send to their friends to let them know about upcoming events. The organizer designs her own invitation -- from describing the occasion details to selecting the background images. (The bright "girls night fun" backdrop is one favorite among women.) And the invitations are specifically laid out to save people time: The Web page's RSVP forum allows those attending to see who else can make it and, if there are things to be done or brought to the event, to visibly determine who's taking care of what. Evite spokesperson Kristen Wareham says, "One of our users started an Orange County Christian moms' group, and she says it's made her life so much easier to know what they can each bring to the gatherings and what they plan to talk about." The invites are not only a great way to simplify keeping in touch with people you already know, they also have a feature encouraging the people invited to invite new people.

DIY

Laurel Touby is CEO of mediabistro.com, an online community of 300,000 media professionals that frequently throws parties in various cities around the country. She says she was lonely when she graduated from college 11 years ago, so she decided to start organizing these get-togethers in an effort to meet other people like her. "It's so hard when you graduate and you come to a big city or a small city, and everybody seems to hang out with people they already know." And if you think networking is just for college grads, think again. Laurel recently passed along some wisdom when her 65-year-old mother relocated to North Carolina, where she knew no one. Laurel recalls, "I told her to become a regular somewhere -- at the gym, the local cafe, a professional organization. In order to meet other people like you, you have to do things you like to do." She says, "Get out of your house. Get out of your office. If you're interested in film, volunteer for a film festival. I formed a network of media professionals because, if you follow what you love, you'll find others like you there."

Diane Darling, author of The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want by Tapping into the People You Know (McGraw-Hill, 2003), agrees. She says her theory of why women sometimes struggle to meet new people uses a sports analogy: "Men have been involved in sports for longer, so they're used to going on the field, trying, failing and then trying again. Women, on the other hand, are perfectionists. We've been socialized to do it nice and to do it pretty, but that's not [how it works]. You're not going to succeed until you try." So what does she suggest? "Always introduce yourself to people, attend forums where it may not be something that's an obvious match for you but might be a place where you might meet people. Get out there and try it."

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