The success and failure of Friendster and Myspace laid heavily on their marketability of building networks outside of your own. As strangers met, friendships spawned and romance blossomed, but so did online pedophilia and stalking, which left most people harboring social paranoia as they surfed these social mediums. The success (and continued success) of Facebook relied on their emphasis of rekindling real friendships or acquaintanceship within your network. As more and more people joined Facebook, their networks also felt obliged to join because everyone you knew was on it. Facebook created a community—a spider web (pun intended) of connections, and no one wanted to be the virtual social pariah.
In boyd and Ellison’s article, the writers distinguish the differences between the bases of Myspace and Facebook. “Social networking sites,” like Myspace, “emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers,” while “social network sites,” like Facebook, function on “’latent ties’ who share some offline connection.” Author Beer takes issue to this clear-cut distinction among other terminology boyd and Ellison uses. In his response, Beer says their categories are limiting, as most social network/ing sites do not fit squarely into just one or the other. Instead, he offers that we “should be moving toward more differentiated classifications of the new online cultures and not away from them”, also adding that “boyd and Ellison themselves point out that these emerging user-generated led sites have a number of shared features and some important differences.” Beer then continues his finger-waving at boyd and Ellison’s “Friend” vs. “friend” dichotomy. According to boyd and Ellison, a “Friend” is exclusively a connection made online and a “friend” is a real-life, real-time friendship. Beer says the problem with this is that “increasingly, in the context of SNS moving into the cultural mainstream, the ‘every-day sense’ of friend can often be the SNS Friend.”
I side with Beer.. but not entirely. Facebook has trumped the other social media by allowing us to first translate our offline friendships to the online sphere, and through those friendships, we meet new online “Friends” that eventually become offline “friends.” I also agree with Beer that thinkers boyd and Ellison were asking the wrong question; instead of looking at the utility of social media, we should be looking at the social or political impacts it has on the physical world. The fact that Facebook pushes us to build online “Friends” (through ‘mutual friends’ feature that appears on the right-hand side of every page you visit) changes the scope of friendships and the way that these relationships are built. Because you share real “friends” in common, it has become socially acceptable in the virtual and the tangible world to create and build online Friendships that are as authentic as the real thing. But at the same time, Beer’s argument is a little pessimistic and technological deterministic. By focusing on the aftermath/impacts of SNS, it seems as though these media have been imposed on us and completely control our behavior from above. Instead, I’d offer to say that we should find a medium (again, pun intended..) between its use and its effects. We should simultaneously make a link between how we use social media and its implications—we need to be moving toward an anthropological and psychological approach when dealing with the great force that is SNS.