Social Network Vs. Social Network(ing): Context Specific?

Dr. David Beer responds to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison’s article by criticizing the lack of clarity in their formulated definition of “Social Network Sites” (SNS), as opposed to their definition of “Social Network(ing) Sites”, which is something very specific implying that networking is the main purpose of those participating on networking sites (518). In addition, Beer proposes that such distinction between the two terms merely causes confusion and serves to be unnecessary. Instead, he believes that setting these terms under a bigger umbrella terminology where multiple categories can be included would be a better alternative (519). Beer also opposes boyd & Ellison’s differentiation made between offline “friends”  and online “Friends”. He sees the two terms as overlapping, where many times, online “Friends” are also one’s offline “friends”. Thus friendship that takes place online and offline are very similar and shouldn’t be categorized into two distinct groups (520). Beer critiques boyd & Ellison’s proposed issue of SNS users’ lack of knowledge and understanding of other users’ identities and purposes by pointing out that if anyone just takes time to observe each other’s online activities, such questions will be answered. In addition, users should not only limit themselves to identifying what users use SNS for, but learn about their activities and associate themselves with them (522). Beer also perceives that people should shift their attention to something more important. The way capitalism affects us, and how third parties and advertisers are using these SNS to their advantage (526).

I personally agree with both articles to a certain extent. I do see the difference between “Social Network Sites” and “Social Network(ing) Sites”, however many social media sites fall in someplace between the two, creating confusion. In a sense, I do agree with boyd & Ellison’s distinction between the terms, but I certainly don’t view the terms as something everyday SNS users should really be aware of or focus on because like I said , most SNS fall into both categories. The only difference is one may carry more qualities of one than the other. So why bother taking the time to strictly categorize which type of site one may belong to? Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter according to boyd & Ellison would fall into SNS. However, I see such categorizations to occur under context specific conditions. With Facebook, most of my friends have a Facebook account, and most of the time I only comment on pictures, walls, and statuses of those I am friends with offline, or closer to, but if a total stranger who has no mutual friends with me messages me or ‘friends’ me, I would 99% of the time ignore it. Why? Because the amount of friends I actually know offline outnumbers those I don’t. Facebook here, for me would be categorized as a SNS because of the fact that I’m only connecting with those I know offline rather than meeting and ‘networking’ with strangers. However, the case here is different with Twitter. When I first started using Twitter, barely any of my friends were on it. So of course, I mostly followed celebrities and Youtube stars, basically people I didn’t personally know. Random Twitter users would follow me, which I found to be very shocking at first because I was so used to the norm built around Facebook, the norm that people only connect with people they actually know. And so I would also randomly follow them back, and next thing I know, I’m engaging in interesting conversations or “tweets” with total strangers around the world. So wait a second, doesn’t this seem like Social Network(ing) because strangers are connecting with each other? My point is that categorizing different social media sites into one or the other is all context specific. If 90 % of my friends were on twitter, then yeah, I guess I would mostly engage in tweeting with my friends only, but would I ever follow back a fellow Twitter user I’ve never come in contact with before? Probably not. Then, in this case Twitter would be a SNS according to boyd & Ellison’s definition.

Now my perspective on “friends” vs. “Friends”, are they much different from each other like boyd & Ellison proposed or are they very similar, according to Beer? My answer is that they can be both. Again, I see this as context specific. On Facebook, I would see the two terms as overlapping because most of my “friends” are my “Friends” on Facebook. However, using the Twitter example, I do see a difference between the two. I would say that more than half of my followers are people who are subscribed to my Youtube channel, in other words people I don’t personally know or, “Friends”. What’s ironic about Twitter is the fact that they list the people you follow as your “Friends”. Now whether that “Friend” is with a capital “F” or not, would be different for everyone. In conclusion, I see neither one of the articles to be more empowering over the other. It all depends on the context. My critique is that everything should be carefully evaluated. Always take the context surrounding the information into concern.

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  1. lillianzepeda

     /  February 9, 2012

    You’re right, boyd and Ellison’s definition doesn’t exactly cover all the bases. I wonder if, at the time they were writing, Twitter wasn’t the mega social media tool it now is. That would explain why they didn’t feel the urge to fit it into one of the categories. Other than it not requiring profiles, it has a viewable and traverse list of followers, Facebook’s equivalent to “Friends”. What’s more, it isn’t considered a social network site because many people on Twitter connect with strangers rather than people they actually know. It’s interesting that you pointed out that the users could control whether it is a social network site or a social networking site.

    What do you think about the need for mutual acceptance to “Friend” on Facebook, and the one-way consensus of Followers on Twitter. How would boyd and Ellison fit that into their definition of SNS?

    This is important because it adds to your argument that if you only followed and were followed by your offline friends, that Twitter would be a social network site. However, it is not because you connect with strangers. How we connect with people on Twitter (following vs. friending) directly effects our network, or networking, as boyd and Ellison might prefer.

    So, are the users really the ones that make a site for networks or networking, or is it the capabilities of the media?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lillian.
    You raised up a good question. I think that having the need for a mutual acceptance to become “Friend(s)” on Facebook helps create a sense of a “relationship” with the consensus of both users. The acceptance represents the expansion of networks, and the agreement between the users to allow each other to sort of peak into each others’ lives through the countless information displayed on their Facebook profiles, hence forming a “friendlier” bond. What I mean by “friendlier” bond is the way Facebook was programmed to function with its Timeline feature, Photo Albums, etc., in other words it allows its users to connect through personal information or whatever the users choose to display. Now Twitter functions a bit more differently, especially with their one-way consensus “Follow” function as you had brought up. Again, there is no one right answer to this, but the way I see Twitter is that without the mandatory Follow-back rule, unlike Facebook, is less encouraging and stresses less for users to connect or become “Friends”. Instead, it creates more freedom for its users to pick and choose who and what they are interested in rather than force bonds through a two-person consensus method.

    From my interpretation of the two social network sites, I would say that boyd & Ellison would consider both Facebook and Twitter to be SNS because they both function as Network Sites that allow friends to connect and expand their networks, as it appears to be their primary intent (as opposed to dating sites where they encourage strangers to meet while not really having any ways for friends to connect or features where they can “write on each others’ walls” and such).

    You brought up a great point that I didn’t really think about before. I think that it would fall somewhere between the users that determine whether it’s a Network Site or a Networking Site and the way these sites were built initially. They both have their effects on each other. Just like as we had discussed in class the other day, where someone pointed out that the ‘RT’ function or button in Twitter was actually created to suit the needs of its users.

  3. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 10, 2012

    nice follow up, teresa


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