Social Network, Social Shmetwork

Dr. David Beer has three principle discords with danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison’s definition of social network sites (SNS). In “Social Network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison”, he first suggests that making the distinction between a networking site and a network site is unaccommodating to the study of social media because it over simplifies it. Differentiating sites by how people connect on them overlooks the purpose of the sites and why people join them, which is a greater indicator.

 The difficulty that boyd and Ellison’s use of the term social network sites creates is that it becomes too broad, it stands in for too many things, it is intended to do too much of the analytical work, and therefore makes differentiated typology of these various user –generated web-applications more problematic. So, where we might group a series of different applications such as wikis, folksonomies, mashups and social networking sites – maybe under a broader umbrella term like Web 2.0 (see Beer & Burrows, 2007; O’Reilly, 2005) – we are instead faced with thinking of a vast range of often quite different applications simply as social network sites.     (Beer 519)

Boyd and Ellison’s formula for identifying an SNS – profiles, articulated friends lists, and navigability (boyd & Ellison 211) – is not enough to make Youtube and Facebook the same. However, while they are all user-generated web-applications or Web 2.0, and the umbrella term could comfortably fit wikis, folksonomies, mashups, social network and social networking sites, a distinction should be made between the sites whose community is on to connect with other people and whose platforms prolifically support that; and sites whose community is on to showcase information on a larger, less intimate scale, and whose platform supports those functions prolifically.

Don’t know what a mashup is or how it works?

Second, Beer takes up the topic of real-life friends and virtual Friends, as coined by boyd and Ellison. Beer disagrees that the relationships maintained online are any different than those experienced in reality. While boyd and Ellison claim that these relationships are parallel – side-by-side but separate – Beer suggests that increasingly, virtual relationships inform those in physical spaces (Beer 520). One would not feel comfortable walking up to a friend of a friend of a friend at the mall had there not been a mediated encounter first. Browsing the persons homepage and seeing them with someone we interact with physically has allowed us to move, confidently beyond the screen. Beer is correct when he declares that even real-world communication is mediated in some way.

Last, Beer offers a different set of questions for researchers of social media. He is concerned with the effects of social media use on society rather than the uses society has for social media. More specifically he’s interested in “knowing capitalism”. (Beer 524)

The information produced through routine engagement with SNS is just as likely to inform business as our purchasing at a supermarket or our purchasing of an online book – with the information being used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers (see Turow, 2006). (Beer 525)

First, his approach is valid and functional only in a capitalist society; it’s ethnocentric on his part to declare that marketing opportunities is the pressing subject – SNS are not only in the U.S. and U.K. He, in his own right, may well only be worried interested in these countries, though. However, before we are able to understand how our information is used to lure us towards commodities and consumerism, we should understand the information being collected. SNS gather information within a bounded system (boyd & Ellison 211), still homepages vary greatly. The presentation of self online verses the presentation of self in the physical world will inform those third party users of SNS. Joshua Meyrowitz writes about the “situational geography” of social life. In “No Sense of Space”, Meyrowitz suggests that our behavior with our audience online is very different from our behavior in the physical world, just as we behave differently with or parents and friends (Meyrowitz 4). How then, do we know that what we display online as our favorite band is, in fact, the band that we most admire and follow? The same applies for name brand clothing, books, restaurants, ideologies, and other things to which we declare loyalty. There’s no good in finding what can, and is, being done with the information we load on to the internet if it does not accurately display our interest and identity.

That we’ll figure out Web 2.0 before Web 3.0 takes over – at this speed, who knows. It’s already in the works.

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