Blog Post 1: Biting the Tail

The definition of “social network” as provided by Boyd and Ellison is split into three parts. First, a social network site (SNS) must “construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system” which is exemplified by Facebook’s “Walls” and more recently the “Timeline” feature. Second, SNS must “articulate a list of other users whom they share a connection” which Twitter does well with the “Followers / Following” lists.  Lastly, a social network site must allow users to “view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”  Beer has a problem with the way Boyd and Ellison go about analyzing social media sites, due to a variety of reasons.

One of the more major points that Beer disagrees with is the distinction that Boyd and Ellison make between “Friends” and “friends.” Boyd and Ellison say that “Friends” (with a capital F) are friends when they are online while “friends” are the friends you associate with face to face, or with unmediated communication. Beer’s response to this is that there is no such thing as unmediated communication. All forms of communication are mediated in some way, according to Beer, because we filter ourselves depending on situations we’re in.   Once the point that unmediated communication does not exist, the distinction between “Friends” and “friends” becomes much less clear. Even if the communication we have with our “Friends” is slightly more mediated because it is going through a medium that is not as personal as face to face communication, the relationships are founded on the same type of communication. I find myself agreeing with this point.

I’ve been able to experience firsthand this lack of distinction. Finding friends online and building the relationship through the Internet as a medium is just as rewarding or maybe even slightly more rewarding than making friends in person. This is because when you find friends online, it is usually due to a mutual interest, and the rise of fan forums online is a perfect example. Soshified, a fan forum for a very popular pop group in South Korea Girls’ Generation, brings together fans and allows them to communicate with one another. This strong common interest that the forum’s members share allows an easy way to form strong friendships. Often these online relationships become personal friendships through “meet ups” organized through the site.

Beer also thinks that Boyd and Ellison address the situation from the wrong viewpoint. The question should not be how people are using social media. Beer suggests that we should be asking broader questions and using social media as a tool to answer them. From an anthropological standpoint I think that this is a very interesting point. Social media is a huge part of our culture at the present time, so do we analyze it as a part of our identity or do we use it to answer questions about our identity. Beer is suggesting that we use part of our identity to find out more of our identity and I agree, mostly. I think that understanding how we are using SNS is important, not only for the companies running these sites and making money, but also to gain an understanding that I think both Beer and Boyd and Ellison are all trying to grasp. The questions Beer wants us to ask are ones that should come out of our understanding how we use social media. Boyd and Ellison provide the first step to satisfying Beer, and it confuses me that Beer is opposed to Boyd and Ellison because I think that they work together.

For example, a trend in social media that has been rising recently is using social media as a news source or for gathering information. In an interesting article from Social Media Today an example of how the use of social media is helping to ask the right questions can be found. Students and parents alike are using social media to find information on potential college choices. This is leading to the creation of SNS tailored to high school students looking to go to college such as Mytonomy which allows current college students to upload video or written testimonies on certain topics for high school students to watch and read and respond to with questions. With this use of social media pinned down, the question can be asked, “Why are students in America trying to hard to get into secondary education?” Once the question is asked, spawned from the understanding of the use of social media, social media can once again be used to answer the question.

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  1. anglas412

     /  February 7, 2012

    The first point of yours that I found very interesting was your take on finding friends online as opposed to in-person. I’ll start off by saying that the term “friend” is clearly a subjective one, so I am not one to judge others’ definition of the term. You talk about how rewarding it is to find friends online, on fan forums for example, who share similar interests with you; although I agree that it is rewarding to find people who share common grounds with you I think the term “friend” is used a bit loosely. I have an extreme adoration for cats- those who know me joke and call me a cat lady- but does that mean that every person I meet in a cat fan-forum online who shares my same love for felines is a friend of mine? I would argue that they are not. I think a friend, in the most commonly used sense, is someone who you have a more intimate relationship with and whose company you genuinely enjoy. I understand liking the fact that you enjoy the same things as someone else, however I believe that a true friend is someone who you have interests with as well as someone you disagree with. Most of my friends do not share the same beliefs, interests, and tastes as me and that is what makes our friendships as exciting and “real” as they are.
    I would also like to address your confusion as to why Beer is opposed to Boyd and Ellison. I can understand why you think both pieces work well together, however, Boyd and Ellison focus primarily on how SNS are utilized whereas Beer seems to think that the important aspect that needs to be looked at is the infrastructure behind SNS. He talks a lot about capitalism and how big of a part it plays in SNS although it is often overlooked. I think that Beer’s focus is on how the creation of these sites mold how they are used, as opposed to Boyd and Ellison who are only concerned with how they are used and not with how they were shaped in the first place.

  2. sammcsmt

     /  February 9, 2012

    Chris, I think you make a really interesting point about how “Friends” can sometimes be even better than “friends”. Although I’ve never personally experienced this for myself, I’ve found examples of people who would agree with that point through work I do at my current internship. Kargo is a company that works with magazine publishers and advertisers to design mobile websites and applications for cell phones and tablets. One of the features of the mobile sites is the option to build a personal profile on which you can post status updates, send private messages, comment on the publishers’ content, and interact with other users. I’d say that the last use of the personal profile is the most prominent. One of my tasks at work is to maintain the “Help Desk,” an online moderator that we use to make sure that everyone is following the rules of the site (no foul/vulgar language, no racism, no “bullying,” etc.). On the “Help Desk,” I’m able to view all of the users’ activity on the mobile sites. I’ve found that many people have formed friendly relationships with other users that live in completely different parts of the country from them, similarly to the Soshified forum you mentioned. They speak regularly, with topics ranging from every day occurrences to serious, personal issues. I think these people would absolutely be able to relate to your point that “building the relationship through the Internet as a medium is just as rewarding or maybe even slightly more rewarding than making friends in person”. In my blog post, I had originally agreed with boyd and Ellison and argued that there is and should be a distinction between “Friends” and “friends”. Perhaps my opinion had to do with the fact that, as I mentioned, I’ve never really formed a meaningful relationship on a social media site. However, after reading your post and thinking about the “Help Desk,” I feel I have a better understanding of the other side of the argument. Thanks!

    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      Way to work your participant observation into your blog response, Samm! 🙂

      • sammcsmt

         /  February 14, 2012

        Thanks, Professor P-S! The class discussions and readings have really made me think about social media (particularly its uses and users) in a very different way.

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