Blog Post 1–boyd & Ellison vs. Beer

Beer’s analysis and evaluation of boyd & Ellison’s approach to defining social media raise valid points and arguments in light of boyd & Ellison’s concessions as well as inspire me with further thoughts concerning the interpretation of social media and how to assess it in the future. First, I will briefly state the main points of Beer’s argument, after which I will offer my own perspective and analysis.

Beer begins his article “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd and Nicole Ellison” by stating that although boyd & Ellison have begun to define social media, their findings are simply a starting point for more research and their ideas should be further developed. Basically, he states that their article is a good start, but the topic itself is nowhere near completion. I have to agree with his sentiment because although they have provided an informed frame for the evaluation and definition of social media, that definition is incomplete. What’s more is that as social media grows, its definition and parameters will have to adjust accordingly.

When speaking about their definition of social media, Beer states that their models are too broad for the wide range of social medias now available; the variety and uses of each SNS are too varied and extensive to be simply categorized as social “network” versus social “network-ing.” Boyd & Ellison’s choice to create two broad categories under which to categorize social media sites is understandable as social media sites are so extensive and have a range of purposes. However, I agree with Beer in with his observation that social media sites need to be categorized more strictly under a wider “umbrella” into a variety of different categories; there is no doubt that these categories will overlap, but by identifying them separately, we are able to more readily evaluate each of them based on more exact criteria.

Next, Beer goes on to state that a user’s off-line network and her online network are more deeply intertwined than boyd & Ellison let on. One of the major issues I have with boyd & Ellison’s idea is that although they separate completely a user’s online and off-line friends, they state that the main agenda of social media is to enhance a user’s already existing relationships; therefore, how can online social media be completely disconnected from off-line interactions?

Beer additionally claims that SNS are not unmediated (as boyd & Ellison suggest); rather, they are personal and direct. From my point of view, I think that it depends greatly on the type of social media or SNS that the user is using in order to determine whether interactions on a certain site are unmediated or mediated. For example, YouTube comments can be viewed as unmediated: there is no structure, and identities are hidden behind screen names. Anonymity usually goes along with unmediated interactions. Facebook, on the other hand, is mediated. There is often an audience for every wall post, tagged photo, comment, or even “like.” There, you are connected to others through an actual representation of yourself (which is not to say that some of these representations are skewed). Overall, your interactions with others on Facebook are viewed in a kind of public arena in which you have to mediate yourself because your comments are associated with your person.

Finally, he states that SNS have to be put into context as they are becoming more and more integrated into our lives. I am in complete accordance with this statement; as we are more involved in social media and SNS in general, we take the entire concept for granted as it becomes increasingly merged into our day-to-day lives. Thus, the concept of “domestication” rises; as we are more heavily reliant on social media, its functions, and its impact on our “off-line” lives, it becomes more important to our face-to-face social interactions. As it is more a part of our lives (online and off-line), we become more dependent on it for not only social interactions; through social media, we have reach to a variety of other platforms developed as social media, that have other uses as well. For example, YouTube and Tumblr else can be categorized both as social media as well as entertainment and information/ news sharing medias.

In the final section of his essay, Beer discusses what can be done in the future to assess social media. Instead of fully opposing boyd & Ellison’s ideas, he adds to their questions. He introduces a new lens with which to appreciate the growth of SNS; capitalism and advertising should be as important as other angles when attempting to define social media. I agree with his additions to the span with which we should be attempting to define social media; however, I also believe that the users and their usage social media will be more helpful in attempting to create a definition for social media and SNS as they are both constantly evolving.

In my personal view, Beer’s article is primarily relaying that SNS should be evaluated in the widest and fullest context possible, which does not detract from boyd & Ellison’s article, but rather adds to it some interesting and valid points.

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2 Comments

  1. Amanda Au

     /  February 9, 2012

    Thank you so much for pointing out boyd and Ellison’s hypocrisy. I really had an issue with the fact that they clearly outlined in their analysis how they believe that social media is used to enhance a user’s existing relationships, but that they ALSO believe our online Friends and our offline friends cannot be seen as connected. Although I most definitely agree with them in that we use social media to somehow enhance/supplement existing relationships with people we know in the physical world, I disagree with their friend/Friend distinction.

    In Chris’ blog post, he mentioned a great point, which is that many of the friends/Friends that we make online are generally made over mutual interests. The best example would be relationships established on forums where members gather because they all find the forums’ content interesting. In general though, when we do meet new people online, if it wasn’t because we knew them first in the physical world, then it was most likely because of some common ground, which based on past experience, is always a good foundation for strong relationships aka friendships.

    I think the primary issue I had with this friend/Friend distinction is that boyd and Ellison don’t offer a definition for friend other than saying “friendship in the everyday vernacular sense.” Well FYI, if we are going by a definition that is set by a society that is growing/changing its “standards” every five minutes, isn’t the definition of friend going to change as well (which is the point made by Beer)? So isn’t there a possibility that the word friend will change to Friend?

    Reply
    • lauraportwoodstacer

       /  February 10, 2012

      Great point, Amanda, that even the meaning of lower-case friend can shift as culture changes!

      Reply

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