Beer explains that he does not completely disagree with Boyd and Ellison’s work, however his issue with their piece is that they do not focus on the “right” issues. He begins by pointing out the problem with Boyd and Ellison’s broad definition of social network sites. Boyd and Ellison define social network sites as, “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system”. Beer suggests narrowing down this definition due to the rapid increase nowadays of sites that fit their definition but which may not necessarily be social network sites. The second bone Beer picks with Boyd and Ellison’s article is their tendency to separate online and offline “realities.” Beer argues that both our online and offline worlds and relationships are so intertwined that it is impossible to make a distinction between the two. Finally, Boyd and Ellison primarily focus on howsocial media networks are utilized, whereas Beer argues that they should be focusing on the network structures themselves (i.e. network site creators, capitalist interests, and the reinforcing of existing homogenous ideologies).
In regards to Beer’s arguments against those of Boyd and Ellison, I have to say that I agree with him in particular on the issue of the line blurring of our offline and online lives. The section of his article which focuses on the ‘friends’ (offline) ‘Friends’ (online) distinction stuck out to me because it pointed out a slight hypocrisy in Boyd and Ellison’s piece. Part of Boyd and Ellison’s definition of social network sites is that they help us enhance our already existing relationships, “ participants are not necessarily ‘‘networking’’ or looking to meet new people; instead, they are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social networking”; if they assert that users primarily connect with people they already know, then Beer is right in arguing against the notion of ‘friends’ vs. ‘Friends.’ Our cyber-selves have become an extension of our everyday selves and so the line separating online and offline has become blurred to the point of extinction.
Although I agree with Beer on his stance on needing to look closely at the overlooked aspects of social media, such as its deeply rooted capitalistic structure, I do not see how it relates to Boyd and Ellison. Beer is right in pointing out these interests because most social network sites are free to use, however bring in an insurmountable amount of revenue due to advertisements and business pages. On Facebook for example, user-interest related ads pop up on the side of one’s profile the second he/she “likes” something or even comments about a product. Sociologically speaking, however, I believe that their emphasis on how these sites are used is just as important to look at as who creates them and what interests they have in mind. Like we discussed in class today, many technologies were created with interests other than being used to network people, but were later turned into “sociable media” as Donath called it in our earlier reading. It is because of this that both Boyd and Ellison’s argument and Beer’s argument are crucial in understanding these media sources.
In my opinion, social network sites are like clay- they come in a malleable form which can be used and shaped however the person utilizing it desires. Business owners, entrepreneurs, and even celebrities use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote themselves and their businesses, and vice-versa: these sites use businesses and celebrities to finance themselves. Yielding a profit is just one way of an unmeasurable number of ways these sites are used. Since it is almost impossible to categorize every way in which an individual or group uses these sites, what we should focus on, in my opinion, is the overall effect they have on shaping our “reality” today. Do the ways in which we group people online, such as the “friend lists” we create on Facebook, alter the ways in which we categorize people on a day to day basis? Have we started to judge others more on how they appear online as opposed to how they present themselves face to face? What makes us more comfortable to connect and network with strangers online than offline? I believe that these issues, those of effect, are more important in understanding who we have evolved into as a society today.