What ever happened to picking up the phone and calling someone?

While Dr. Beer takes it upon himself to reconfigure Boyd and Ellison’s SNS breakdown, a part of me – a rather snarky one, might I add – feels like I have to contest his attitude.  I was completely blown out of the water when he started bragging about his editorial…before it had even gotten to page two; “This is likely to become a highly referenced article that could well shape these emerging debates, for this reason their article requires some attention before the dust settles on the path forward” (Beer 517).  At least buy me dinner first, man.  I mean really, who is this guy?  What gives him any more qualification than Boyd or Ellison?  And that’s when I decided to Google him.   Yes, I did just use Google as a verb. His article came in, BAM, first hit.  Below that was the “5 Social Networks For Beer Lovers” and below that, our csmt12 WordPress Blog.  I didn’t get very far into Dr. Beer before realizing there was nothing on him.  (I’ll give you this one Beer, but we will meet again.)  Phooey. So I decided to pacify my teenage angst, just for an hour or two, and go along with it.

Before I go on about the response to “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” I should probably talk about Boyd and Ellison for a bit.  After all, you can’t watch Kingsley’s response to Rebecca Black’s Friday (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJ9XIP6XNXs, enjoy) without first watching her actual music video (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0).  I’m assuming you’re Internet savvy enough to know who and what I’m talking about, keep up.

Boyd and Ellison start by defining social network sites, and reasoning as to why they are not known as social networking sites.  The two begin to outline the backbone of most of these SNSs (public profiles and a list of “friends”).  To these authors, a public showcase of friends is often a defining point of SNSs, although most don’t have it.   Extremely relevant, and almost necessary in some way, Ellison and Boyd go into the history of these sites, and how much of what we just know, came to be.  The rise and fall of Friendster, the popularity of MySpace in 2004 to its pitiful slump as a deplorable, in other words, “jank,” network.   Gross, you have a MySpace?  They then go into relationships, site structure, online and offline structures, security, and other measures.

Although Boyd and Ellison decided to analyze social network sites, Dr. Beer (remember him?) takes another approach.  He justifies that this fairly new phenomenon should be tackled from a new perspective.  Beer redesigns the way for people to investigate social network sites, and revisits points of take off that Ellison and Boyd made; including their definition, theory, and future.  He explains that although the two have defined SNSs concretely, that this is a major problem.  Since the Internet is constantly changing and developing (along with these sites), it’s very difficult to pinpoint an enduring definition.  Additionally, he admits there should be more classification and differentiation, and explains that certain sites we believe to be SNSs aren’t; such as Youtube, because it doesn’t allow such a relationship to other people.  He criticizes Boyd and Ellison’s theory involving online and offline communities.   But Dr. Beer says that the sense of friend on an SNS is not entirely different from a friend in real life.  There’s even a blog for online friends (http://onlinefriendsthings.tumblr.com/).  (Why, I ask you??)  In terms of future reference, he says that we should answer who and what are using certain SNS sites, and why.  He also insists that people should look at SNSs in an alternate context, that these are “commercial spaces.”

Although I think that Dr. Beer is too harsh on Boyd and Ellison (chill bro, they were here first), I think that their industrialized definition of an SNS, is terribly flawed.  For some reason, I’ve found that for people who haven’t grown up in a generation bottle-fed by Neopets and Club Penguin, there is this irrational desire to “define” these cultural changes, explain what’s going on, and to classify certain components.  Facebook is this, Facebook does this, and Facebook is used for this.  I’ve heard it all, especially from older generations like my parents.  Don’t get me started on what they say about texting.  But for me, Ellison and Boyd’s fault was differentiating social network from social networking.  Believe that our generation doesn’t use these things to meet people we don’t know, or to network through them is completely false; take LinkedIn or Craigslist for example.  This article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/caroline-dowdhiggins/millennials-work-culture_b_1248523.html in the Huffington Post, further illustrates how Gen. Y has changed the use of the Internet and expanded our reach.  These people weren’t brought up with it, and do not utilize these tools as much as young adults, and for that reason, I find it very difficult believe these authors know exactly how to define our terms for social, networking, and friends.  I do agree with Dr. Beer, very hard, but after denial comes admittance, that the web is constantly changing and we can’t freeze it and time and write out what it is.  No matter what, this “definition” won’t be up to date.  Research is not moving as fast as we are.   For this reason, I think that we should define SNS as what we want it to be, what WE make out of it.  I believe that if we have to investigate these developments, that active and consistent users should be first in line to explain to us what exactly these things are.  Because, clearly, they understand it the best.

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  1. Hi Nelly. This is just a quick response to your blogpost that I very much enjoyed reading. I agree with you on Beer’s credibility and how he quickly dismisses boyd and Ellison’s research (which isn’t perfect, nonetheless it was a start for something most people didn’t know about). However he did have some good points about flaws in the ladies’ research and terminology. Their definitions of social network sites and social networking sites do not really apply anymore to everyday usage, at least for us youngsters in high school and college. We aren’t really adding people to make more contacts/friends but rather we are adding people we know and want to get to know better who have more in common with us. I agree and disagree with you when you said “I think that we should define SNS as what we want it to be, what WE make out of it” because as much as we would like to define SNS to what we want it to be it really isn’t 100% possible when people like Mark Zuckerberg can change his SNS whenever he wants without asking all of his Facebook users. We have to change our adjustments to adjust to the changes he makes. In a way we have to conform to the higher “authorities.” I mean Mark isn’t really an authority figure but deep inside I’m sure we all fear the day Mark may decide to shut Facebook down without a warning. Just a thought. Thanks for great read.

    -Tahmina 🙂

  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 7, 2012

    To be fair to Beer, I think he meant that *boyd & Ellison’s* article would become highly referenced and shape the field (but I have to admit to enjoying your snark anyway). 🙂

  3. ljp282

     /  February 9, 2012

    I think you raise an interesting point about the obsession with defining and analyzing the trends occurring in modern digital life. Where does this compulsion come from? Every week there seems to be a new report on some malevolent effect the Internet or a social media platform has on society. I personally know several people of my parents’ generation who are convinced that Twitter, for instance, is ruining the reading and writing skills of today’s booth. Or the stories we hear of cyber bullying or young girls meeting sexual predators in disguise via chat rooms. My suspicion is that these anxieties stem from a (sometimes) irrational fear of the new and unknown, just as there was a huge amount of apprehension at the rise of the automobile, urbanization, and rail travel and the hypermediation (relative to the time period) of social interaction that came with it.
    I would argue, however, that these worries are not exactly unfounded. Sites such as Facebook have taken on a monolithic role in our everyday lives faster than you can click the Poke button. For many people, their main news source has shifted from print media to television to the Internet to now receiving constant tweeted updates on their smartphone. With such a rapid change, it’s not surprising that many people find it somewhat troubling, especially those who do not completely understand or are not early adopters of new social media technologies. Hence the need to classify, analyze, define, inspect, investigate, and study.

  4. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  February 10, 2012

    lucas – good point about the moral panics that tend to follow new technologies!


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