Dr. David Beer’s response to danah boyd’s and Nicole Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship is quite definitely a very interesting one. I’ll start with a very short summary introducing the piece he critiques, in my opinion, very negatively. Ellison and boyd are defining the terms social network(ing) sites, otherwise shortened to SNSs, along with stating the history of many SNSs and how the network structure works to support millions of users. Beer has many so-called “problems” with Ellison and boyd’s piece about social networking sites. He doesn’t necessarily call out the two ladies, however he thinks they are asking the wrong questions and answering questions that aren’t really relevant to SNSs anymore. Be as it may, I wonder how relevant Beer’s critiques are in the current year we are in? And do I necessarily agree with what he is saying?
Beer agrees that the article does a “great deal of work to clarify the boundaries of study and to provide an overview of the story so far.” This entire section of Beer announcing what boyd and Ellison did well seems very sarcastic and snide. Instead of just giving them credit for what they have written about, he seems to undermine their research by saying “most credit should be give for their attempts to construct a history of SNS” and “attempt to define some of the ways which we might move forward with our analysis of SNS.” The word ‘attempt’ is a bit contemptuous on his part.
Ellison and boyd define social networking sites and social network sites as two different things. Networks are explained as web-based services that allow people to make a public or semi-public profile, along with a list of users with whom they share a common ground with, and view and explore their list with other lists within the system. Networking emphasizes relationships that are and will be created because of the network and the web-based service. Networking is often between strangers (page 211). Beer suggests that their SNS definition and framing is not very useful. He believes it no longer delineates what people use the sites for. The classifications of the new online cultures are not just networking/network sites, but in nuance should have many more different categories. There is a vast range of very different applications that are just social network sites but don’t really have networking incorporated in them. Beer presumes that Ellison and boyd should move away from saying networking is the only focus of SNS, where now “making and accumulating friendship connections is not the sole focus of activity” (page 518). Currently Facebook is not just for making friends, but also for businesses and companies to place ads and promote themselves in a very public eye.
Beer is averse to the whole concept of online and offline friends because he thinks most of someone’s online friends ARE their offline friends. Most Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace users are adding and following people they know in “real life.” According to a study, most Facebook users (82%) are adding people they know in real life rather than strangers. Ellison and boyd say that most people add strangers from their network, which is not the case anymore. I agree with Beer in this case where most people I know do not add strangers because of safety and privacy issues dealing with adding someone you do not know. Beer says, “If friendship must be seen in context, then it is essential that we begin to understand the role of friendship in forging the connections of SNS and, allied with this, begin to appraise the implications for friendship thrown up by the friendships of SNS.” So are these two types of friendships the same? I agree in that it depends on the context the friendship is in, but I don’t think friendships are the same online as they are “offline,” or in real life. How I talk to my online friends is not the same way as I would to my offline friends. I tend to be quite boring online and I won’t put the effort into most conversations, but in real life I am very much the opposite, where I won’t ever let the conversation die. Most people have twice as many online friends than offline friends because it easier to maintain friendships on SNSs. It requires less effort and occasional hellos to maintain those types of friendships. Contrary to online friendships, real life friendships require much more effort, passion, intimacy, and shared activities.
Besides “friendships,” Beer is more concerned about how our social system is being perpetuated through social media. He considers that there are greater consequences to SNSs rather than just networking and meeting people; but rather there are kinds of “sociological tendencies” that are used to research reasons for a new technological culture. Since the research is not fully developed and the vast archives of information about users are not being put to much use, there is insufficient knowledge about the new form of capitalism. My stand on all of this is mostly sided with Beer and his take on a lot of incomplete thinking that boyd and Ellison failed to state. As time progresses the changes that will be made to many SNSs will be dramatic and a new boyd and Ellison will put their take on it in a different light.