Thoughts on SNS Sites

While Beer does not dispute the facts presented in Danah M. Boyd’s and Nicole Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, he does try to frame the study of Social Network sites differently than they do in their article. He establishes from the start in “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far” that the authors’ emphasis on a distinction between network and networking is unnecessary. In fact, he wishes to have one umbrella term so even more distinct categories of social media can fit under the umbrella (519). Another part of their article he disagrees with, is the author’s thoughts on online and offline behavior, especially in regards to friendship (520). Another issue he has with their article is how they think of mediated communication. Even though SNS sites have become so popular and domesticated, the authors continue to think of communication as being either mediated or unmediated (521). The truth is that most of our communication is now mediated due to technology’s prevalence within society. Lastly, Beer argues for a new way of studying SNS sites, which includes paying attention to the third parties involved and how they collect data to participate in a “more knowledgeable capitalism” (525).

In Beer’s creation of a different outlook for the future of SNS sites, in comparison to Boyd and Ellison, his first and last point are the most striking to me. Beer’s thoughts on the offline and online behavior is fascinating. It has been four years since his article and I believe we can no longer think of living life in this online versus offline terminology. Although there is a large part of the world that is incapable of having this technology, I will speak only of the part of the world that has access to this technology for argument’s sake. I would argue that the rise of social media shows that people are content with making and performing friendship online. This type of friendship is not any less real than any form of friendship that is created or performed in the physical world. While some would argue that the ability to be anonymous online does not allow for true friendships, I believe this anonymity can function in a truly positive way. This anonymity allows for friendships that are merely based on behavior or interests. Basing a friendship on these reasons rather than looks, location, or class, seem, to me, to be a far better basis for a friendship. So while I believe that we should not speak in terms such as online and offline friendship, I do believe that the way in which we form online friendships can be an excellent asset to those trying to chose their friends in the physical world. It reinforces better reasons to form a friendship than the superficial reasons that are more likely to dictate friendships in the physical world.

In regards to his last point, I believe that Beer’s ideas about third parties being involved in social media is the most important for our generation. The controversy surrounding Facebook for so long and the controversy that will no doubt soon follow Google is that these sites collect data on users. Moreover, how this data is being used is a major concern as well. Beer suggests that we now operate in a “more knowledgeable capitalism” due to the actions of these sites (525). The issue of privacy on the web is extremely important and it seems that these sites do not concern themselves with helping the users. I feel as though these sites, as social media, should be helping people connect not helping third parties make money. In a recent letter to investors, Mark Zuckerberg said, “We don’t build services to make money. We make money to build better services.” While I would like to believe this, it seems unlikely that the reason for all the recent changes on Facebook were to create better services. In fact it is common in most classes to hear students bemoaning the latest Facebook changes. It is clear that upgrades such as the compiling of topics and the timeline feature merely serve to give third parties more information about their consumer.

Ultimately, I believe that the future of SNS sites should focus on Beer’s concerns about third parties and evaluate the language surrounding this online and offline dichotomy. I think it would be far better to stop using words to create a polar relationship between online and offline. In fact, as I argued above the friendships formed online may even be more authentic. In addition, the issue of SNS sites collecting user data must be a much a greater topic of discussion when thinking of SNS sites. Issues of privacy and control are at stake in a world where these third parties can know any piece of information about users that they like.

Advertisements

Re-revisiting the Story So Far

In “Social networking(ing sites…revisiting the story so far:  A response to danah boyd & Nicole Ellison,” Dr David Beer offers a different approach to the ways in which we analyze social media today, nearly five years after the boyd and Ellison’s work has been published. In their article, boyd and Ellison provide an in-depth historical account of social network sites from Six Degrees in 1997 to Facebook in 2006. The authors define social network sites as online sites that allow the user to: (1) create a profile, (2) articulate a network, and (3) view your and other individual’s networks.  They clearly differentiate this term from social networking site, which is solely to be used to cultivate new relationships.  One of Beer’s biggest criticisms pertains to boyd and Ellison’s terminology and the way in which they frame their approach.  Beer’s reproach is that such classifications prove to be too broad – and ultimately problematic.

Beer also dislikes the distinction boyd and Ellison create between online and offline relationships.  Whereas boyd and Ellison differentiate online “Friends” and fleshy “friends,” Beer is adamant that the two are equivalent. He asks, “how can it be profitable to separate our offline and online relations and spaces or online and offline forms of living?” (Beer 520).  Given my experience with social network sites, I was at first torn between boyd and Ellison’s distinction of Friends/friends and Beer’s recursive interpretation of the phrase. Would I refer to all of my Friends on Facebook to be my “friends” offline?  Absolutely not.  I have dozens of Friends that I’ve met simply on one occasion. However, the mere fact that I have access to the most intimately personal information of these so-called Friends – photos, status updates, life events – makes me feel innately closer to them. I also agree with boyd and Ellison in the sense that my online relationships primarily solidify my already existing ones.  My personal Facebook timeline and Twitter feed highlight interaction with my friends that I spend the most time with.

In some respects, I do believe that there still is a divide between our online and offline friends – just because I liked someone’s status doesn’t mean that I would say hi to him or her on the street. More or less, I find myself siding with Beer in the sense that with the increasingly interchanged nature of relationships, we may have to redefine friendship altogether.  Beer is more in touch with what social network sites are used for today – a voice.  Today, many SNS like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. are used as platforms for sharing multimedia content. In these online communities, personal identities are often ambiguous. Idealized profile pictures and absence of social cues make us wonder:  is there such thing as true presentation of self?  Thanks to pseudonymous communication, we are able to thrive within these social network sites while maintaining a constantly cultivated identity.  The older social network sites boyd and Ellison referenced (like MySpace, Facebook, Cyworld and Bebo) were intended for bilateral communication and expanding preexisting networks.  Today’s social media lean more towards social networking sites, as clever Twitter handles and YouTube subscriptions allow us to create and maintain online relationships with people we wouldn’t necessarily communicate with offline.

Beer further disagrees with boyd and Ellison’s distinction between mediated and unmediated communication.  Given the “switched on” nature of today’s world, we are constantly filtering our own ideologies.  Consequently, even if we’re not using a social network our messages are still being sent or received by a medium in some way.  Social media is an increasingly defining and integral part of how people live, even more so than when Beer’s article was published (Beer 523).  Nevertheless, to separate our online lives from our so-called offline lives is completely out of the question.  In 2007, the year boyd and Ellison’s work was published, 48% of adults in the U.S. used the Internet every day while only 5% of adults used a social networking site daily.  When Beer’s article appeared just a year later, the percentage of U.S. adults using the Internet jumped to 54% and those using social media increased to 13%.  Nevertheless, I could see how boyd and Ellison were able to make the online/offline distinction, which is virtually unthinkable today.  And as of May 2011, an estimated 78% of American adults use the Internet daily and a whopping 65% use SNS!  Given the rapidly growing nature of SNS, it would be wrong to deny them of their role within our lives.

Ultimately, Beer believes that boyd and Ellison are asking the wrong questions altogether.  Despite that boyd and Ellison’s studies of social media target individual users, Beer wants to know more about the other players and their role within the system.  Who’s running these sites? How are they making money?  He suggests that questions pertaining to the role of SNS in capitalism are “more difficult and overlooked” (Beer 523).  By not asking these questions, I agree that we risk not questioning or challenging the way our SNS operate. Social media provides us with an opportunity to evaluate how our social system is being perpetuated online. Despite that Beer describes the collaborative and collective nature of this capitalist system, he never clearly defines the role of the individual.  Given that we can make a case that boyd and Ellison’s work is outdated, the same argument can be made for Beer’s.  Since 2008, a plethora of relevant SNS have emerged and it would be interesting to hear what boyd or Beer has to say about these sites.  Social network sites such as Yelp and Urban Spoon mean businesses are now dependent on user reviews.  While all of the authors are concerned with how third parties attain and distribute information, it appears that neither boyd, Ellison nor Beer have given their thoughts on how individuals play a role on shaping the companies around them.   As new technology emerges, it is critical to understand the relationships and implications  of all aspects of social networking sites.

The blurring lines of online and reality

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.

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.

The Advent of Web 2.0

In David Beer’s response article, we start seeing somewhat of an inverted pyramid in terms of defining social networks. Whereas Boyd and Ellison attempted to create a broad definition that could encompass the range of social network sites that existed at the time of their published article, Beer suggests that there is a “need to classify” (Beer 1). The predominance of Facebook has forced many other social network sites to become niche or purposeless. According to Beer, we should be moving more towards a  “differentiated classifications of online cultures and not away from them” (Beer 1). Beer goes into more detail as he explores how social networks are giving advertisers more knowledge about users and using that to their advantage. This is a big aspect of the paradigm shift to Web 2.0.Many individuals have deferring opinions on “Web 2.0” being the official term to describe the Internet today. It was coined in 2004 because of the O’Reilly Media web conference to describe the shift that the internet was experiencing from information centric to user-centric and collaboration. No where is this more relevant than through Social Media. Information is created or shared, consumed and collaborated on by networks of people. These networks differentiate from one another, however, and the information shared will not be the same. I should not share the same information on Linkedin (for business) as I would on Pininterest (for entertainment). So I agree with Beer when he says we need a more clear cut definition that satisfies that cultural shift.

There is another fascinating point that Beer brings up. He writes that “we might even want to think if there is such a thing as online and offline in the context of social Network Site (SNS)” (Beer 1). In this day and age, social networks have permeated society and integrated themselves in the mundane ways people live and interact with each other. “Facebook me” has become accepted vernacular and “tweets” are having increasing importance in our news. For many people, Facebook is the internet and they spend hours on it interacting with others, sharing photos, statuses, and views, as is evident in the online article, “Why I have Facebook Fatigue.” This interaction can happen in both social and professional contexts.

Let us also not forget about how the mobile industry is now restructuring social media. Many people are now accessing social networks on their smartphones, many having their own native apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. What’s really interesting is that mobile is responsible for the rise of many more SNS that actually solely operate on smartphones and do not have a web presence such as Instagram (photosharing), Viddy (video sharing) and Path (web journaling). We can now take our SNS with us where ever we go. The line between offline life and online life is becoming increasingly blurred.

Mobile is one aspect of Beer’s article that I would add, given that the majority of Americans will have either a smartphone or a tablet in the next few years. About 65% will have a smart device by the year 2015 according to research firm In-Stat (cnet 1). Given that statistic, mobile is also an aspect that scholars should study and observe because it may very well represent another paradigm shift in how people communicate with and through technology and the web. Especially since Facebook alone as over 800 million active users and more than 50% of those active users log on to Facebook in any given day, especially through their smartphones (digital stats). Facebook as well as smartphones apps, has become part of life for many people, so integrated into our daily routine that it almost seems natural. What does this mean for the average person?

Even though Beer’s article was a critique of Boyd and Ellison’s writing, I tend to want to agree with both parties. Boyd and Ellison tried to explain that when individuals go on SNS, it is to primarily to keep up to date with family and friends that they already know. It is not for meeting new people, which is what “networking” entails. But Beer says that we have progressed since our Friendster days and moved into a world where networking can be the reality and purpose for many social networks, including Facebook and Twitter. People are meeting new people on SNS all the time and oftentimes, those people become offline friendships and relationships. Pre-existing notions of SNS do not become outdated, they evolve.

Susan G. Komen, Planned Parenthood & A New Lense for Social Media Analysis

Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison are some of the first and most influential theorists about Social Media Technology. They argue that Social network sites (or SNS) are websites that allow users to construct profiles and to create and display a personal network based on those profiles. While this definition of SNS, as well as their history of SNS and their compilation of theoretical research in the same article are valued very highly in the academic discourse surrounding social networks, they where not without  criticism. One such criticism comes from David Beer, who in his work critiqued much of theory Boyd and Ellison produced in their piece. He took issue with two broad categories of their analysis: the scope of their questioning and some of the distinctions they drew such as online vs. offline and unmediated vs. mediated communication. While the debate between Beer and Boyd & Ellison is an interesting one, I think that both theories are asking the wrong set of questions, and that right set of questions need to focus on the impact of individual users of social media in a large scale. Although I may disagree with some of the theory in their piece, I find Boyd and Ellison’s three part definition of social media to be more than sufficient in describing the way many of us use ‘web 2.0’ , but I would argue along with Dr. Beer that they make too much of a distinction between online and offline friendships. In our modern world everything is plugged in and unplugged at the same time. Including political and social justice discourse, which I believe is the lens through which social media theories should be engaging discussion about users relationships to social network sites.

It is not just our friendships that are on social media platforms, and I think both Boyd and Ellison and Dr. Beer ignore this fact. Everything from ordering concert tickets to grocery shopping is transforming into social media platfo. But the most interesting use of social networks to me is in the idea of using social media networking sites to rally people around a central ideology. I believe that by studying this aspect of social media use, you can find out a lot more about how users interact with each other and how they interact with the internet, which is what SNS theories seem to be most interested in. While Dr. Beer takes issue with the fact that Boyd and Ellison, and most discourse on social media, only study how individual users use SNS, and while I would also take issue with that I would simultaneously reject Dr. Beer’s idea that we need to focus on the larger picture of the sites themselves. Beer focuses on the capital aspects of these sites, saying that we need to realize they are business above all else. And while the fact that Facebook is releasing their IPO has been all over the news recently would seem to agree with him, I would say that a much more important story using SNS has been building this week.

Earlier this week the Susan G. Komen foundation announced that they would not longer be giving Planned Parenthood their annual grant of $680,000 because the organization is under Federal Investigation. As soon as news broke of this spending cut, people used social media to discuss their outrage at the cut in spending. A meme broke out on Facebook where users posted a picture that looked like this:

And both Facebook and Twitter are still blowing up about the debacle. This screen shot from the Susan G. Komen official Facebook page shows that users where both standing with and against the organization’s idea to defund Planned Parenthood:

 

Today the Komen foundation announced that they would reinstate funding to Planned Parenthood and also claimed they rewrote their grant policy to make it clear that the investigation must be of a criminal nature. Here is their official Facebook status on the matter:

Now, as the drama seemingly winds down, many places on the Internet are talking about how social media won the day for Planned Parenthood. Articles at Jezebel, Mashable and The Huffington Post all mention the major role the social media backlash played in Susan G. Komen’s decision to reverse their decision.

In my opinion it is these kinds of stories that social media theoriests should be talking about. More than how Facebook makes money, or why it’s users log on a certain number of times a day I believe this is the picture worth focusing on. While Beer argues that the important aspects of social media are the way the sites play on a global capitalist scale, I would argue that it’s the way people work together on that global platform. By focusing on how SNS allow people to mobilize, Social network theory could bring together it’s desire to study user habits and to create a larger scope in it’s analysis. As the online and offline worlds that Boyd and Ellison talk about become more and more blurred, I think it is important to understand the way in which these social media technologies are changing the way we engage in public discourse. Because long after Facebook and Twitter fall to the way side, what we accomplished on them will have ever lasting effects.

 

Sociology and Media

I think Beer makes good observations in response to boyd and Ellison’s article. Although he is a little too critical about their ideas, both articles are important in understanding social media and networking. In Beer’s article, he makes further distinction between “networking” and “networks”. “Networking” is only applicable to certain websites and the term social network sites should become an umbrella term. He acknowledges that many of these websites’ applications overlap categories, which is why he wants more classifications in order to accommodate new online cultures. Boyd and Ellison centers on what makes a social network site, which has the ability to: construct profiles, add a list of users with whom they have a connection, and be able to view their list. The importance is the ability to connect with people you already know in real life.

I am conflicted by both articles’ opinions on separating online and offline relationships. Boyd and Ellision suggests that friends on SNSs are not the same as your real life friends and Beer thinks otherwise. I agree more with boyd and Ellision and separating your real life friends and SNS friends is an important distinction. Although my friends are people I know in real life, they are not the people I would call my close friends or who I want to keep in touch with all the time. To me SNS friends are people who I stay connected with because we met in certain situations. My SNS list does not reflect my real life friends.

I double major in media and communications and sociology, because I thought many of the theories related very closely to each other. In the case of studying social media, it should be treated as a distinct subject. Many things we know about human interactions can be applied to our virtual connections. Although SNS is the virtual world it has had a strong influence and is incorporated closely with our everyday actions. I think it is important to address how and why it has impacted us so strongly as a society and why we as individuals are so obsessed over it.

In class we discussed how individuals are able to manipulate their identities and present themselves in specific ways. This allows for users to comment indiscriminately and form connections and community based on similar opinions. In a previous human communications class we read from many theorists including Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”. I think this can be applied sociologically to the developing identities on SNSs and networks. His theories are analogous to how humans interact socially. Goffman writes about how people put on performances in their everyday lives to present to the “audience”. There are layers and techniques for these daily performances and require the “actor” to adapt to their surroundings. This is very similar to social network users because they too are often putting a persona on display. Again, how they interact on SNSs may not be how they are in real life.

I think this traditional way of applying past theories to new social media is an important step in understanding these new forms of connections. It is important to acknowledge that human communication is changing everyday with the development of social network sites. Society tries very hard to keep up and predict the future of social network sites. I think it will be a challenge for scholars as well to keep up with changing communications and connections.

We’ve still got a long way to go…

In their article, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison give the history of social network sites and define what Social Network Sites (SNSs) really are and how they differ from social networking sites. They define social network sites as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd & Ellison 211). In Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to Danah Boyd & Nicole Ellison, Dr. David Beer begins by acknowledging the framework that Boyd and Ellison’s research has laid out for SNSs, but takes issue with much of their argument as he believes that their definitions are far too broad.

First, Dr. Beer addresses the issue that the term “social network site” can virtually refer to anything. He argues that “rapid cultural shifts and the dynamic and disjointed nature of much contemporary online culture” create a “need to classify in order to work toward a more descriptive analysis” (Beer 518). By using this more descriptive analysis, Beer states that many sites that we consider to be SNSs are not—like Youtube for example, which he categorizes instead as “folksonomy”. Sites like Youtube allow you to connect with other people, but socializing isn’t the main objective or activity for users. Further classification of SNSs allows us to accurately name and describe sites.

Though I agree with Boyd & Ellison’s definition of a social network site, I disagree with the fact that that’s all an SNS is. The SNSs relevant to our society today are much more sophisticated than many of the ones in 2007 when the article was written. I think that a more detailed classification of SNSs is necessary because of the “dynamic and disjointed nature of…online culture” that Beer refers to. According to Boyd & Ellison’s broad definition of an SNS, a large percentage of today’s websites could fall under that category. To me, commenting on a posted video shouldn’t count as being social. I think that there has to be genuine social interaction between users for a site to be considered an SNS whether it’s a wall-to-wall conversation on Facebook, mentioning someone on Twitter, or checking in with your friends in on Foursquare. Classifying various sites by the way that they are actually used, not by intended use, is key to further understanding how SNSs function. It will make future research and analysis of the topic much more defined.

Next, Beer discusses his problem with Boyd & Ellison’s separation of online and offline living. He notes their distinction between offline ‘friends’ and online ‘Friends’ (Beer 520) and argues that the two are increasingly becoming the same thing as SNSs are more integrated into our everyday life. He argues, “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends” (Beer 520). I completely agree with this statement. In the case of Facebook, all of my Friends are friends, or acquaintances at the very least. The notion of a complete stranger seeing the inner workings of my social life creeps me out. It’s part of the reason why I quit using MySpace along with millions of others, subsequently causing it to give up it’s crown as social network king.

In today’s tech savvy social world, most SNSs are used more to keep up personal relationships rather than form new ones. The sites that are used to meet new people like Match.com are, in my opinion, in a separate category from SNSs like Facebook and Twitter, which are also in a separate category from LinkedIn. This goes back to Beer’s argument that more detailed categorization of SNSs is necessary.

Though Beer disagrees with much of what Boyd and Ellison assert in their piece, there is one thing that they can all agree on, and that’s that there needs to be more research done on social media. I enjoy going on Facebook, tweeting, and going on Youtube just as much as the next person, but I can in no way say that I understand how they work with our social lives the way that they do. Social media has become such an integrated part of our lives whether it is used in entertainment, professional, or educational contexts. Despite the extreme popularity of social media, we still don’t completely understand it from an analytical perspective. In order to use social media to its fullest potential, we need to understand how it works and why.

Social media is changing daily, so it’s hard to give an exact definition for a specific SNS. However, with more research, we will be able to better understand the sites that we use as well as those yet to come. Boyd & Ellison had a good start to beginning this research, but it was done while the technology was still fairly young. As we continue to use the technology, improve it, and study its uses and effects, we can build off of the foundation that they laid as well as the additions that Beer added.

Blog Post 1–boyd & Ellison vs. Beer

Beer’s analysis and evaluation of boyd & Ellison’s approach to defining social media raise valid points and arguments in light of boyd & Ellison’s concessions as well as inspire me with further thoughts concerning the interpretation of social media and how to assess it in the future. First, I will briefly state the main points of Beer’s argument, after which I will offer my own perspective and analysis.

Beer begins his article “Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd and Nicole Ellison” by stating that although boyd & Ellison have begun to define social media, their findings are simply a starting point for more research and their ideas should be further developed. Basically, he states that their article is a good start, but the topic itself is nowhere near completion. I have to agree with his sentiment because although they have provided an informed frame for the evaluation and definition of social media, that definition is incomplete. What’s more is that as social media grows, its definition and parameters will have to adjust accordingly.

When speaking about their definition of social media, Beer states that their models are too broad for the wide range of social medias now available; the variety and uses of each SNS are too varied and extensive to be simply categorized as social “network” versus social “network-ing.” Boyd & Ellison’s choice to create two broad categories under which to categorize social media sites is understandable as social media sites are so extensive and have a range of purposes. However, I agree with Beer in with his observation that social media sites need to be categorized more strictly under a wider “umbrella” into a variety of different categories; there is no doubt that these categories will overlap, but by identifying them separately, we are able to more readily evaluate each of them based on more exact criteria.

Next, Beer goes on to state that a user’s off-line network and her online network are more deeply intertwined than boyd & Ellison let on. One of the major issues I have with boyd & Ellison’s idea is that although they separate completely a user’s online and off-line friends, they state that the main agenda of social media is to enhance a user’s already existing relationships; therefore, how can online social media be completely disconnected from off-line interactions?

Beer additionally claims that SNS are not unmediated (as boyd & Ellison suggest); rather, they are personal and direct. From my point of view, I think that it depends greatly on the type of social media or SNS that the user is using in order to determine whether interactions on a certain site are unmediated or mediated. For example, YouTube comments can be viewed as unmediated: there is no structure, and identities are hidden behind screen names. Anonymity usually goes along with unmediated interactions. Facebook, on the other hand, is mediated. There is often an audience for every wall post, tagged photo, comment, or even “like.” There, you are connected to others through an actual representation of yourself (which is not to say that some of these representations are skewed). Overall, your interactions with others on Facebook are viewed in a kind of public arena in which you have to mediate yourself because your comments are associated with your person.

Finally, he states that SNS have to be put into context as they are becoming more and more integrated into our lives. I am in complete accordance with this statement; as we are more involved in social media and SNS in general, we take the entire concept for granted as it becomes increasingly merged into our day-to-day lives. Thus, the concept of “domestication” rises; as we are more heavily reliant on social media, its functions, and its impact on our “off-line” lives, it becomes more important to our face-to-face social interactions. As it is more a part of our lives (online and off-line), we become more dependent on it for not only social interactions; through social media, we have reach to a variety of other platforms developed as social media, that have other uses as well. For example, YouTube and Tumblr else can be categorized both as social media as well as entertainment and information/ news sharing medias.

In the final section of his essay, Beer discusses what can be done in the future to assess social media. Instead of fully opposing boyd & Ellison’s ideas, he adds to their questions. He introduces a new lens with which to appreciate the growth of SNS; capitalism and advertising should be as important as other angles when attempting to define social media. I agree with his additions to the span with which we should be attempting to define social media; however, I also believe that the users and their usage social media will be more helpful in attempting to create a definition for social media and SNS as they are both constantly evolving.

In my personal view, Beer’s article is primarily relaying that SNS should be evaluated in the widest and fullest context possible, which does not detract from boyd & Ellison’s article, but rather adds to it some interesting and valid points.

Keep your friends close and your Friends closer?

Online friends vs. IRL (in real life) friends.

This is something I see that’s constantly being discussed, especially on community-based sites such as Tumblr.

Some people only use Tumblr as a site to post the occasional pretty picture or inspirational quote on, but there is a huge percentage of Tumblr users that use it as a means to express their inner nerd about their favorite TV shows, movies, music, etc. On Tumblr, people don’t necessarily follow people they know, but rather people who blog about things they like. Instead of spamming their friends’ newsfeeds on Facebook, most of whom will probably not care, people come to Tumblr to gush obsessively about whatever it is they are into to followers they know who will be interested in what they are blogging about. This is why people who belong in various fandoms are drawn to Tumblr. They are able to form bonds with people through things they are passionate about, things that might not resonate with people they know in real life. They form in-jokes and develop particular tastes in humor that only those in the know would understand. You see the same thing on message boards and fan forums. It’s no surprise then, why people feel they connect with their online friends more than their IRL friends.

Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison discuss social network sites and make a distinction between “Friends” and “friends.” “Friends” are the people you know through social network sites and “friends’ are people you have friendships with in real life. They claim “the term ‘Friends’ can be misleading, because the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied” (Boyd and Ellison 2007). David Beer disagrees, stating, “The problem is that increasingly, in the context of SNS moving into the cultural mainstream, the ‘everyday sense’ of friend can often be the SNS Friend” (Beer 2008). Beer believes, given the massive influence social network sites have on our lives, it has changed our understanding of friendships. Therefore we shouldn’t make the distinction between “Friends” and “friends” because people are growing up and becoming informed by the connections they make through SNS (Beer 2008).

I have to agree with Beer on that point. The criticism that is often met with making friends online is that they don’t count because you haven’t met face-to-face. These friendships are shallow and you don’t know what the other person is really like and it impedes on your ability to make real friends.

But with the proliferation of online communication, they way we approach friendships is changing. Just because you met someone online doesn’t mean that relationship means any less to you than those you have with people you know in real life. The highlight of your day might be talking to someone you know through the Internet. Does the fact that you have never met that person in real life make that feeling of anticipation any less real?

A lot of people actually feel more inclined to talk to their online friends about personal issues rather than their real friends. Maybe they feel their IRL friends will judge them or they may feel too vulnerable discussing certain things with people they interact with face-to-face. You may not know what a person looks like or where they live, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss “real things” and form a meaningful relationship.

Speaking personally, I’ve made an IRL friend out of an online friend. My friend Nora friended me on Last.FM when we were in high school, and we used to discuss our favorite bands and geek out over our mutual taste in music. Through our conversations we learned that we had other things in common (ie: favorite TV shows, movies) and then we started following each other on Tumblr and became Facebook friends. When we both started going to school in Manhattan, we began hanging out in real life, and we’ve been maintaining our online and IRL friendships ever since. Like Beer said, social network sites are changing the way we connect with people and go about starting and maintaining friendships. I initially met Nora online and now we’re “real friends,” but the bulk of interactions still take place online. Am I supposed to classify her as a “friend” or a “Friend?”

The implications of whatever label you put on someone is subjective. I know personally, I have friends on Facebook whom I have met in real life and haven’t talked to in years. Certainly, I feel closer to the people I have shallow conversations with through Tumblr. But then there are people I’ve only met once or twice in person but talk to them constantly via Facebook. Then there are my real friends who I have known all my life that go to other colleges and the majority of our interactions are done via Facebook. Are these people “Friends” or “friends?” I think it’s impossible to separate all of these things into just two categories.  Whether or not there should be a distinction, it should be up to the social network user to decide.