In their article, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison give the history of social network sites and define what Social Network Sites (SNSs) really are and how they differ from social networking sites. They 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” (Boyd & Ellison 211). In Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to Danah Boyd & Nicole Ellison, Dr. David Beer begins by acknowledging the framework that Boyd and Ellison’s research has laid out for SNSs, but takes issue with much of their argument as he believes that their definitions are far too broad.
First, Dr. Beer addresses the issue that the term “social network site” can virtually refer to anything. He argues that “rapid cultural shifts and the dynamic and disjointed nature of much contemporary online culture” create a “need to classify in order to work toward a more descriptive analysis” (Beer 518). By using this more descriptive analysis, Beer states that many sites that we consider to be SNSs are not—like Youtube for example, which he categorizes instead as “folksonomy”. Sites like Youtube allow you to connect with other people, but socializing isn’t the main objective or activity for users. Further classification of SNSs allows us to accurately name and describe sites.
Though I agree with Boyd & Ellison’s definition of a social network site, I disagree with the fact that that’s all an SNS is. The SNSs relevant to our society today are much more sophisticated than many of the ones in 2007 when the article was written. I think that a more detailed classification of SNSs is necessary because of the “dynamic and disjointed nature of…online culture” that Beer refers to. According to Boyd & Ellison’s broad definition of an SNS, a large percentage of today’s websites could fall under that category. To me, commenting on a posted video shouldn’t count as being social. I think that there has to be genuine social interaction between users for a site to be considered an SNS whether it’s a wall-to-wall conversation on Facebook, mentioning someone on Twitter, or checking in with your friends in on Foursquare. Classifying various sites by the way that they are actually used, not by intended use, is key to further understanding how SNSs function. It will make future research and analysis of the topic much more defined.
Next, Beer discusses his problem with Boyd & Ellison’s separation of online and offline living. He notes their distinction between offline ‘friends’ and online ‘Friends’ (Beer 520) and argues that the two are increasingly becoming the same thing as SNSs are more integrated into our everyday life. He argues, “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends” (Beer 520). I completely agree with this statement. In the case of Facebook, all of my Friends are friends, or acquaintances at the very least. The notion of a complete stranger seeing the inner workings of my social life creeps me out. It’s part of the reason why I quit using MySpace along with millions of others, subsequently causing it to give up it’s crown as social network king.
In today’s tech savvy social world, most SNSs are used more to keep up personal relationships rather than form new ones. The sites that are used to meet new people like Match.com are, in my opinion, in a separate category from SNSs like Facebook and Twitter, which are also in a separate category from LinkedIn. This goes back to Beer’s argument that more detailed categorization of SNSs is necessary.
Though Beer disagrees with much of what Boyd and Ellison assert in their piece, there is one thing that they can all agree on, and that’s that there needs to be more research done on social media. I enjoy going on Facebook, tweeting, and going on Youtube just as much as the next person, but I can in no way say that I understand how they work with our social lives the way that they do. Social media has become such an integrated part of our lives whether it is used in entertainment, professional, or educational contexts. Despite the extreme popularity of social media, we still don’t completely understand it from an analytical perspective. In order to use social media to its fullest potential, we need to understand how it works and why.
Social media is changing daily, so it’s hard to give an exact definition for a specific SNS. However, with more research, we will be able to better understand the sites that we use as well as those yet to come. Boyd & Ellison had a good start to beginning this research, but it was done while the technology was still fairly young. As we continue to use the technology, improve it, and study its uses and effects, we can build off of the foundation that they laid as well as the additions that Beer added.