Blog Post 1- Social Networks: Friend or Foe?

Boyd and Ellison’s article describes what they believe is the definition of a social network.  Their three part definition states “we 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 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).  Beer’s response, is more than anything a critique of their work.  He believes that boyd and Ellison do give a thorough analysis of social network sites (coined SNS), however, he feels they did not conduct it in the correct manner.  As we discussed in class; Beer thinks, instead of asking how do people use social media, we should be asking broader questions, and using social media to ask them.

One problem Beer has with boyd and Ellison, is their varying definitions between “social network” and “social networking.”  They believe social networking is when users of a site initiate meeting new people, etc.  While social networks maintain already substantiated relationships.  Beer believes by creating this shift in definitions, there isn’t much you are achieving.  He feels that instead, there should be one extensive term, like “Web 2.0,” that will be able to define the shift and fitting of different categories within the spectrum of social networks.  I tend to agree with Beer.  While discussing the difference in class between “social network” and “social networking,” I was left very confused and puzzled.  Giving two separate terms doesn’t create something that is profound or noteworthy, rather it just leaves people being even more speculative of the whole institution of social media networking/networks then they were before.

Another criticism of their work that Beer maintains, is boyd and Ellison’s classification of “Friends” and “friends.”  They believe that “Friends” online, are those people that we are connected with whether it be from school or work, and “friends” are those friendships we have in the real world.  Beer believes hat there is no difference between our online and offline relationships.  He feels that making this distinction is not useful from a sociological perspective.  I tend to both agree and disagree with Beer and boyd and Ellison.  Boyd and Ellison are right about the difference that “Friends” are people you’ve known throughout your life but aren’t as close to as your real “friends.”  However, I agree with Beer that their distinction with these “Friends” and “friends” is not truly the best thing.  We have a separate life than that that of such social networking sites like Facebook.  This life is with our friends and family, interacting face-to-face.  Whether it be sitting at home and just watching a movie together, having a conversation on the phone, shopping at the mall, or grabbing a coffee and talking about what’s going on our lives.  However, this separate life can be continued through sites, to maintain these friendships as boyd and Ellison claim as the purpose of social networks.  For example, on Facebook, we are able to post links or other sources of media we find funny to our friends’ walls.  We can write things related to discussions we had in our previous face-to-face interactions, or even continue those conversations through chat or message.  The video below is a little bit of comic relief towards differentiating “Friends” and “friends.”

Finally, Beer also believes that people like boyd and Ellison, are not inserting a critique about capitalism when it comes to social networking sites.  He feels that they are looking at specific users rather than looking at the economics of the sites.  I also agree with Beer’s claim.  What really is the agenda of these sites?  Yes we use them as a relief from our own lives as either entertainment, or catching up with friends.  However, there is something much bigger that is going on that people may be overlooking.  When we sign onto sites like Twitter or Facebook, we see there are all these different pages about different consumer goods, restaurants, movies, television programs, etc.  We are able to “like” these pages or become “fans” based on our interests.  Yes we may have interests in these things, however, what is the goal of creating these pages?  To perhaps create a larger audience for these products, shows, etc?  To create more of an awareness?  This is all used by big businesses for their own benefit because everyone’s goal is to make money at the end of the day.  Also, sites like Facebook are able to take user’s information that are provided from their interests, activities sections, etc. to put advertisementss on their sidebars that are related to the information that is retrieved.  This not only exploits user’s profiles, but it also leads to privacy issues.  Jessica Mintz states in an article featured in Bloomberg Businessweek entitled “Microsoft, Facebook team up on social search, “Privacy concerns have plagued Facebook over the years as the company has encouraged members to reveal more details about themselves. The site has a history of introducing features that people must then remove, or opt out of, instead of waiting for members to actively sign up for the new features. That approach has riled privacy advocates” (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9IR22AG2.htm) Creating all of these features and applications “intended” to express who users are as individuals on Facebook, coincidentally allows Facebook to use it’s power to create a major consumerist machine.

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2 Comments

  1. Your discussion of the articles is on point! I like how you stated the puzzling qualities of the attempt to differentiate between network and networking sites. The speculative nature of the sociable media has been the root of most of the readings so far. Your commentary on the virtual “Friends” versus physical “friends” is good. Our “Friends” are definitely an amalgamation of those from our past, but it has also allowed interactions to happen with strangers who may have never entered our lives. The virtual world gives us the capability to be-Friend anyone and start a new relationship that can blossom online and lead into something fruitful offline. With all of the “friend” activities you mentioned, it was interesting to see how all of those can now be transformed into a social media activity. We can blog about a movie, check in at the mall, and even Instagram our coffee. http://wallblog.co.uk/2011/03/18/social-fans-help-starbucks-succeed-with-instagram/ This article shows how Starbucks used Instagram to promote their brand and enable users, who might be having a face-to-face interaction, to take their moment and put it into social media. It is interesting to question what it says about us when we become “fans” or “followers” of public figures or programs. I wonder how many of the sites are actually run by the actual person or company. Your comments on Facebook and user’s profiles generating advertisements are such scary issues and of course the ideas of privacy come into issue. It is an interesting dynamic between social media allowing us to express our individuality and social media capitalizing on our “individuality” for their consumerist gains.

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  2. Karen Ho

     /  February 10, 2012

    I’m glad you mentioned that you both agree and disagree with boyd and Ellison and Beer in their opinions of the differentiation between “Friends” and “friends.” I feel the same exact ambivalence because I think it’s really up to individual users to make that distinction. It’s true what Beer says about social media changing the entire meaning of friendship and how we go about them. I agree with your point about Facebook giving us the ability to continue face-to-face conversations online. Friends that I talk to in my everyday life are the people I talk to the most on Facebook. We’ll post things on each other’s walls that remind us of things we’ve talked about in person.

    Facebook also has the ability to strengthen friendships or facilitate the process of an acquaintance becoming a friend. There have been countless instances in which an acquaintance will post a funny video or a thought-provoking article, and because we are friends on Facebook, I don’t feel awkward liking or commenting on the link. That will sometimes lead to conversations that wouldn’t necessarily have been brought up in the physical world. The next time we see each other in person, we might continue that conversation face-to-face. Facebook encourages participation and interaction and that can help maintain or establish friendships
    .
    However, there are those facebook friends that I’ve met maybe once or twice and have never spoken to again, be it in person OR online. There have been times when someone has asked me, “Hey, do you know so and so?” and I’d respond with, “Yeah, we’re Facebook friends but I don’t really know him/her.” I also have people I knew in High School that I never talk to but are still friends with on Facebook simply because I am nosy and like to keep tabs on them. There simply are some people on Facebook that I am closer to than others. Clearly, in these cases, you can’t lump these friends with your “actual friends,” meaning some distinction might be necessary.

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