By using Facebook to give people updates on specific sporting events, videos of the competition and clips of athlete interviews, social networks allow fans to create moments of spontaneous camaraderie, he gave as an example.
"It might be akin to what you'd experience if you were sitting in a bar with people are watching a sport," Shimmin said. "Someone stands up and cheers and you feel that. With social networks, it's the same, only virtually. It's that sense of belonging."
However, for the athletes who are tweeting and posting updates to their social pages during the games, there are some big risks involved.
Just ask Paraskevi Papahristou, a 23-year-old triple-jump athlete from Greece. After making what was considered a racist tweet, she was kicked off her Olympic team on Wednesday.
So far, though, most athletes are having better luck with their social networking.
U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones has more than 172,000 followers on Twitter. And she's keeping them entertained with tweets like this, "Notify Olympics: I can't run. Injury:BroKeN heart RT @LonaPete RT @eonline Prince Harry is off the market! Sorry,ladies".
The International Olympic Committee realizes how important social networking is this year so it created a social media hub to help fans keep track of their favorite athletes and events.
"We're in uncharted territory to some extent," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "The last Summer Olympics was four years ago -- before the massive global surge in social networking. It'll be interesting to see if the Olympics spurs significantly more interactions or if it's on par with what we'd see with other major sporting events."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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