When you investigate social networking software, the hits yielded suggest that the party is already over. Some sources argue that it is dead, others that it sucks and deserves to die. One particularly embittered critic, California blogger John Koetsier, writes: 'I am so sick of networking software like LinkedIn, Friendster, Tribe, Orkut and so on. Firstly, it's been done to death. Secondly, I have real friends, thanks so much. Third, I hate networking anyway. And fourth, all of a sudden tonnes of people want to sell me stuff like CRM. Now I can trade friends like companies on the stock exchange?' Mr Koetsier quotes a slice of spam from a marketer inviting him to join another network. I can see how annoying that kind of attention must be, especially if, unlike Mr Koetsier, you are feeling lonely. But, hey, he joined. And I can see good reasons for joining. I am in one (getalife.com.au) and must say that it works pretty well. The deal is you sign up, pay a tiny registration fee and then come along to whatever meetings appear on the website. Events span the gamut from whale-watching to pub crawls. One downside is that, as in any forum - online or offline - you bump into the occasional ranting oddball. Another downside is that members can easily become institutionalised, insisting on keeping all exchanges within the website's framework and obliging you to log on then type into a cramped box: laborious. But essentially the system works. And it is free from the tension that saturates dating sites because the individuals you meet are not on the prowl - at least so they say. Also, social commentators continually tell us that society is growing increasingly 'atomised' - soon, it seems, we will each live alone in a studio apartment with at best an electronic cat for company. So, social networking software seems to serve a purpose. In future, expect it to become more immediate. Just look at Meetro ( www.meetro.com/ ) the Chicago start-up that exploits location information about Wi-fi hot spots to bring together people using nearby access points. The feel of Meetro is marvelously random. If the innovation catches on it will mean that you can hook up with strangers whenever you like, wherever you go. Could this spell the death of loneliness? I doubt it because the organic supercomputers shoehorned into our skulls are so complex and nuanced that, as at weddings, we can manage to feel isolated among a horde of friends, contacts and acquaintances. And again, many potential adopters may feel concern about the quality of the catchment. Who wants to meet a stranger who stalks you or is just awkward, or a bit, well, strange? One of the faces on the Meetro homepage resembles Austin Powers. Apparently satirising this dubious side of the social networking equation, a relative of Friendster has now come into being. Wink hello to Shagster, 'the freshest conquest community on the internet' and the world's biggest database of previous sexual partners. (Not that there is much competition beyond the bragging of various sad acts on their vanity pages.) To register your conquests with Shagster, you sign up, then log in and start adding people to your roll-call of hotties or hunks if any are game enough to let you. 'Of course,' Shagster says, 'due to the nature of the site the other person must 'consent' to be added to your sordid list, so we give them the opportunity to decline your request. Once someone has responded to your request you will receive an e-mail informing you which option they chose.' I wonder which option the average ex or one-night stand is more likely to choose. I cannot see Shagster taking off in a hurry because, albeit deliberately, it misses the point of social networking software - enabling connections. Bragging about conquests is only likely to make the braggart that much lonelier. Confused by computer jargon? E-mail email@example.com with your questions.