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To fill a table, they go online

Web connections, made with care, can add to holiday cheer and gatherings of new friends.

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Call it Home for the Holidays 2.0. Whether it's the newly married couple transplanted across the country, or the emotionally troubled 50-something Boston-area businessman, or the San Diego bartender who has to work on Thanksgiving day, individuals displaced from their own families by geography, emotions, or work schedules are turning to the tools of today to find "family" for the big seasonal gatherings.

As more people grow comfortable using social-networking websites – from Facebook and MySpace to Craigslist and a wide range of smaller, niche social-network sites – more also appear inclined to turn their digital contacts, cautiously, into real-world social connections to ensure they are not by themselves on the holidays.

Just five years ago, people's options were much more limited, says John Boynton, founder and CEO of SchoolPulse, an online community for educational institutions. "Now they can post a single ad, and thousands, potentially millions, of people will see it." Because of the sheer scale – some 300 million users regularly engage with the various social-network sites – "they can find a wide variety of rich and very specific experiences," he adds.

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