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.

SNS: Looking At The Bigger Picture

In their article, danah boyd and Nicole Ellison inform the reader of all things social network.  They define “social network sites,” give plenty of examples throughout history, and shed light on studies surrounding these sites.  David Beer responded to boyd and Ellison’s article critiquing the questions that arose in their writing and suggesting alternative areas of SNSs that should be paid more analytical attention.

To begin with, Beer does not think an emphasis should be put on boyd and Ellison’s distinction between “social network sites” and “social networking sites.” Boyd and Ellison say that “social network sites” should be the terminology used, since people “are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social networks” and therefore are not “networking” with strangers (boyd and Ellison 211). Beer says although this differentiation is true, it should not be focused on, and instead categorization of sites within a broad term, such as “Web 2.0” should be utilized (Beer 519).  I tend to agree with Beer.  Boyd and Ellison’s argument seemed a bit insignificant, and even when I read Beer’s classifications, such as “wiki’s, folksonomies, mashups, and social networking sites,” the organization of what was to be studied already seemed clearer than the confusing “networking” matter (Beer 519).

Another topic that Beer critiques is boyd and Ellison’s separation of online and offline living, and the difference between Friends and friends. Boyd states, “Friends on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense” (boyd and Ellison 220).  Beer disagrees with this assumption.  He believes, “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends and notions of friendship, particularly as young people grow up and are informed by the connections they make on SNS” (Beer 520). I completely agree with Beer, especially in today’s world where children are growing up with technology in their lives as opposed to being introduced to it in the middle of their teen/young adult years.  The usage of social media has become second nature in today’s culture, and I think today’s relationships online are just as “real” as relationships offline.  I would even go as far as saying online relationships could be more “real” than offline ones, because of the easy accessibility, mobility, and permanence of social media platforms. Of course this can be refuted with SNS “flaws” such as lack of authenticity and elimination of face-to-face social cues, but overall online and offline relationships are both substantial in their own ways, and often enhance one another, eliminating the divide between Friends and friends.  To make matters more complicated, I definitely think there are different categories of friends in the online world, as presented by this diagram by Mike Arauz.

Perhaps scholars could delve into this topic more. I would find it very interesting to see if they agree or disagree with these classifications.

Beer is also keen on taking a capitalistic approach at studying SNS.  Beer says that SNS users’ information is being, “used to predict things about us, to find us out with recommendations, or even to discriminate between us as customers” (Beer 525).  Beer is adamant that scholars are aware of this fact SNS are used as data sources and can be manipulated by users so they are “treated favourably” in a capitalistic sense (Beer 525).  Beer says all of this with a quite wary tone, yet I don’t seem to understand why.  As long as no privacy barriers are crossed isn’t this capitalist-consumer SNS relationship a good thing? Businesses are able to target niche audiences and consumers will encounter advertising that caters specifically to them.  I know that I personally like picking a commercial that is more suitable for me when I’m watching a TV show on Hulu, I will occasionally click on a band that is advertised on the side of my Facebook profile, or I’ll even check out a promoted tweet on Twitter. No matter how private one’s profile is, I think SNS users are aware that the Internet is indeed a public forum, and the information published on it can be used in a myriad of ways.

Overall, I like Beer’s broader questions about social media.  Boyd and Ellison do a good job at analyzing the platforms themselves, but what about the people that use them? What does the way people utilizing SNS say about society? Social media has become so engrained in today’s culture that we must not study it as an entity separate from daily life, but as an ingredient and indicator within it.

Blog 1: Future of Social Network(ing)

Dr. David Beer’s response to danah boyd’s and Nicole Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship is quite definitely a very interesting one. I’ll start with a very short summary introducing the piece he critiques, in my opinion, very negatively. Ellison and boyd are defining the terms social network(ing) sites, otherwise shortened to SNSs, along with stating the history of many SNSs and how the network structure works to support millions of users. Beer has many so-called “problems” with Ellison and boyd’s piece about social networking sites. He doesn’t necessarily call out the two ladies, however he thinks they are asking the wrong questions and answering questions that aren’t really relevant to SNSs anymore. Be as it may, I wonder how relevant Beer’s critiques are in the current year we are in? And do I necessarily agree with what he is saying?

Beer agrees that the article does a “great deal of work to clarify the boundaries of study and to provide an overview of the story so far.” This entire section of Beer announcing what boyd and Ellison did well seems very sarcastic and snide. Instead of just giving them credit for what they have written about, he seems to undermine their research by saying “most credit should be give for their attempts to construct a history of SNS” and “attempt to define some of the ways which we might move forward with our analysis of SNS.” The word ‘attempt’ is a bit contemptuous on his part.

Ellison and boyd define social networking sites and social network sites as two different things. Networks are explained as web-based services that allow people to make a public or semi-public profile, along with a list of users with whom they share a common ground with, and view and explore their list with other lists within the system. Networking emphasizes relationships that are and will be created because of the network and the web-based service. Networking is often between strangers (page 211). Beer suggests that their SNS definition and framing is not very useful. He believes it no longer delineates what people use the sites for. The classifications of the new online cultures are not just networking/network sites, but in nuance should have many more different categories. There is a vast range of very different applications that are just social network sites but don’t really have networking incorporated in them. Beer presumes that Ellison and boyd should move away from saying networking is the only focus of SNS, where now “making and accumulating friendship connections is not the sole focus of activity” (page 518). Currently Facebook is not just for making friends, but also for businesses and companies to place ads and promote themselves in a very public eye.

Beer is averse to the whole concept of online and offline friends because he thinks most of someone’s online friends ARE their offline friends. Most Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace users are adding and following people they know in “real life.” According to a study, most Facebook users (82%) are adding people they know in real life rather than strangers. Ellison and boyd say that most people add strangers from their network, which is not the case anymore. I agree with Beer in this case where most people I know do not add strangers because of safety and privacy issues dealing with adding someone you do not know. Beer says, “If friendship must be seen in context, then it is essential that we begin to understand the role of friendship in forging the connections of SNS and, allied with this, begin to appraise the implications for friendship thrown up by the friendships of SNS.” So are these two types of friendships the same? I agree in that it depends on the context the friendship is in, but I don’t think friendships are the same online as they are “offline,” or in real life. How I talk to my online friends is not the same way as I would to my offline friends. I tend to be quite boring online and I won’t put the effort into most conversations, but in real life I am very much the opposite, where I won’t ever let the conversation die. Most people have twice as many online friends than offline friends because it easier to maintain friendships on SNSs. It requires less effort and occasional hellos to maintain those types of friendships. Contrary to online friendships, real life friendships require much more effort, passion, intimacy, and shared activities.

Besides “friendships,” Beer is more concerned about how our social system is being perpetuated through social media. He considers that there are greater consequences to SNSs rather than just networking and meeting people; but rather there are kinds of “sociological tendencies” that are used to research reasons for a new technological culture. Since the research is not fully developed and the vast archives of information about users are not being put to much use, there is insufficient knowledge about the new form of capitalism.  My stand on all of this is mostly sided with Beer and his take on a lot of incomplete thinking that boyd and Ellison failed to state. As time progresses the changes that will be made to many SNSs will be dramatic and a new boyd and Ellison will put their take on it in a different light.