Web 2.0 sites offer you the chance to make professional contacts, display work and win commissions. We help you choose the best one.

Over the past two years, the number of people using social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and LinkedIn has exploded, thanks in large part to media hype.

Now, most people who would be attracted to such sites have tried them out, and have either dropped them, or adopted one or more networking site as one of their regular Web tools, used almost as frequently as email and instant messaging.

Many creatives have found that, when used well, these sites can help boost your career, providing an efficient way to keep up with peers, host a regularly updated showcase of their work, and network and keep in touch with clients, colleagues and collaborators.

However, used badly, such sites can damage your reputation and job prospects – especially if too much of your personal life is accessible to your professional contacts.

For those who haven’t used a social networking site, either for personal or professional uses, here’s how they work: each user has their own profile page, featuring basic information, which can be seen by their contacts – and others, if they wish.

The profile page is also where the user keeps their contacts updated with what’s going on in their lives – anything from regular ‘I’ve just finished this project’ to notifying people that you’ve left one company and joined another.

The user can add functions to their personal profile. The sites generally offer automated facilities to keep up with what your contacts are doing, which is useful for those with hundreds of contacts.

Show yourself

Many sites also include self-publishing tools, allowing blog entries, images, photos and videos to be uploaded for other contacts to see. Most include internal versions of email, and public message posting to other’s profiles (such as Facebook’s Wall and MySpace’s Friends Comments) – and some offer built-in chat functions.

Beyond this, each site has a different set of tools designed to cater for the needs of its users. Some sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, were designed as social networking tools, while others, like DeviantArt and Flickr, were started as portfolio sites and have added such tools as they grew.