In Beer’s article, he offers a continued analysis of social network sites that so far “have not received little in the way of sustained analytical attention” (Beer 516). He focuses his response on the definition that Boyd and Ellison construct of the difference between ‘social network sites’ and ‘social networking sites’, and how that difference should be renamed under different terms. Beer wonders, “why not use a term like Web 2.0 to describe the general shift and then fit categories, such as wiki’s, folksonomies, mashups and social networking sites within it” (Beer 519). Boyd’s and Ellison’s definition don’t do the vast amounts of social sites (whether that be network or networking) justice.
Beer also takes up discussion with Boyd and Ellison’s separation of ‘online’ and ‘offline’ living, and how each consists of a separate group of friends. He brings up the point that, “it is possible that SNS, as they become mainstream, might well have an influence on what friendship means, how it is understood, and, ultimately, how it is played out” (521). As more and more people use SNS, they become more integrated and normal in everyday life, and there is no clear distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ friends. It becomes harder to separate the technologies we use daily from the interactions with real people around us as they become more and more intertwined.
Beer then transitions to the future of analysis of social media. Keeping in mind that while social media is often free, there is an economic aspect to it due to the extremely high exchange rate of “information, cultural artefacts, personal details, links to products and commodities, contacts, friends, and details about events and meetings” (524). And as research continues, Beer and other academics should learn from everyday SNS users and their integration of SNS into daily life.
One of the issues that both articles discuss, the idea of online vs. offline friends and SNS influencing the way friendships function, is something that I think is constantly evolving. Especially with the rise of smart phones and nonstop connectedness to the internet and social media, we almost cannot escape this increasingly mediated world. Social media have seeped into every aspect of our life – everyone is connected through networks like Facebook and Twitter and we are constantly using them at home on computers as well as checking up on them through phones when out and about. I especially like Beer’s comment, “without wanting to sound Baudrillardian, we might even want to think if there is such a thing as an online and offline in the context of SNS” (522). How can we tell the difference between the two anymore? Websites like google are expanding their social media into many different platforms, like google+, and in short periods of time can already attract over 90 million users. And when these 90 million users are constantly connected, there is a blurry overlap of the line between real life and virtual life. They are quickly becoming one and the same.
Also, I can agree with Beer’s criticisms of Boyd and Ellison’s article. While Boyd and Ellison set up a solid framework for the analysis of social media, the large bulk of it being historical leaves some room for them to be able to continue their analysis. Beer’s article does continue and refine their analysis, but both articles were written in 2008 and are already outdated in some areas (for example some of the social network sites have a completely new role in society, or on the other hand don’t even exist anymore). A lot of Beer’s more detailed points, however, seemed to have aged better. For example, Beer realizing that the future research of social media should take advantage of the participatory knowledge of regular SNS users is something that can continually help. As social media evolves, so do the users, and by learning first hand experience from those users will provide the best insight into how and why SNS work they way they do.
As research continues into social media, there seems to be a never ending supply of different social media outlets, and an exponential amount of users. If a website like google can add 50 million users in a three month span, and facebook can accrue over 845 million users over its lifespan, there seems to be no end in sight for what social media can accomplish and how connected it can make the world. These SNS users are they key to understanding why social media has become the phenomenon that it has, seemingly unstoppable.