The massive growth of the internet and the evolution of interactive user generated content has allowed users to create a participatory culture online. This user generated content is so vast in existence and sites that require a participatory culture are popping up so quickly, that organizing these sites is becoming rather difficult.
danah boyd and Nicole Ellison try to explain, define, and elaborate in their article on what exactly social network sites(SNS) are. The vastness that these sites includes is enormous, therefore in order to create one definition for such various things is difficult, and neither Boyd and Ellison, nor David Beer’s response to their article accomplish this task. However, their ideas are great starting points for discourse. Beer states that “we should be moving toward more differentiated classifications of the new online cultures not away from them.” I agree with this, however I think that his thoughts on social network sites becoming the new umbrella term for these sites is misleading. Web 2.0 does a great job encompassing the generation of user generated content on the web and SNS fall under the term Web 2.0 but not everything within Web 2.0 is a social network site. For example, Wikipedia produces user generated content, but it is not a social network site.
With the relatively new and quick growth that the technology industry has encountered, an exact definition of SNS is hard to come by. All social network sites are different in their own ways, hence what makes them their own and the number of sites so vast.
Where boyd and Ellison attempt to create an exact definition of what these sites “do” for our culture, Beer wants to talk about what these sites “are doing” for our culture. In part with the fact that these sites are not only spaces for people to interact with each other online, but are becoming critical elements of everyday life, I tend to agree more with Beer’s approach. I think that defining what social network sites “do” is rather pointless, since each site “does” something different. In my opinion, it is more important to define what these sites are changing culturally and within communications both online and off. Beer says that “it makes sense to try to come up with a term that captures a broad sense of what is happening in online cultures.. But it seems to me that mutating social network sites to do this job may actually create problems.”
Beer is opposed to the idea of online and offline friends because he thinks most of someone’s online friends are also their offline friends. I beg to differ that most of someone’s online friends are also their mere acquaintances in “real life” (offline). I think that with the movement of SNS into the cultural mainstream, online Friends are now also being referred to offline as friends, hence Facebook has changed the meaning of the word “friend.” Essentially, the point is that our online SNS life is not completely separate from out offline life, rather they play off and are interweaved within each other. Beer says that “SNS come to challenge and possibly even mutate understandings of friendship.” I find this statement true when applying it to FaceBook, however it does not work the same with Twitter, which is a site very different than FaceBook. On Twitter, the people you are connected with are deemed followers. The issue at stake is that by Facebook using such a commonly used offline term on their site and describing a different type of relationship causes discourse around the term itself as Facebook becomes more synonymously used.
boyd and Ellison note that they do not use social network site and social networking sites interchangeably, which I agree with. The difference between social networking sites and a social network site is the importance of the network, rather than the act of networking itself. On Facebook, you rely on the network you create to entertain your interest, therefore Facebook is a social network site. On LinkedIn, you continuously are networking to find new connections and the basis of your activity is providing a profile(resume) for the people you have worked on networking with to view.
Communication technologies are not created for sociable media, but become sociable media because users make the technologies sociable. This same idea goes for SNS, the intended purpose of the site is not the way that every single user interacts with it. All users have different motives and intentions for their use and it is impossible to know how every SNS user is interacting with it. For example, some people are on Twitter for quick and easy news headlines at their fingertips, others are on it to tweet to their hearts content, others are making money, advertising, and promoting products. Some Twitter users don’t care if they are tweeting to 20 close friends, while others will do anything for one more follower.
I think that Beer’s suggestion of moving towards more differentiated classifications of SNS will become more prominent in the near future and boyd and Ellison’s attempt to broadly define the term SNS will be rethought.