Blog 1: Social Network[ing] Sites

Social media is a relatively new and constantly changing phenomenon.  As such, it is difficult to examine and interpret it in a truly scholarly way. Ellison and Boyd, however, took an honest shot, and for that, I must give them props.  Their primary goal is to establish a definition for what, exactly, social media means.  The result is a three-part definition that identifies social media as a “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” (211).  Next, they go about differentiating the online “Friends” (note the capital “F”) with offline friends.

Unsurprisingly, their attempt at defining and interpreting social media is not without enormous faults.  In trying to understand the phenomenon in an academic context, they end up understating and misconstruing a lot of information.  Their narrow definition of social media, for example, demonstrates their preoccupation with semantics over practice and ideology.  Boyd and Ellison dedicate a significant amount of time to their justification in opting out of the term “networking.”  They defend this for a few reasons, emphasizing that “what makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks” (211).  This is a bold statement.  The article is clearly outdated, but I am curious as to how Boyd and Ellison would react to the capability to hide one’s friend list (or rather, “Friend-list”) on Facebook.  And based on how I recognize and understand behavior around blogging and microblogging, I think that Boyd and Ellison are too quick to belittle the uniqueness and profoundness of connecting with strangers online.  Social networking sites are indeed unique because they allow individuals to meet strangers.  True, not all of them serve this purpose.  But some of the ones that do, such as Twitter (and many, many others), create a global community.  It is unique to be able to meet someone in a moderately personal, albeit online, setting across the world.  Prior to social networks, there were online chat rooms.  Despite the simple notion of being able to meet a stranger online in a chat room, it does not possess the same meaning or significance.  On a social network, one is more likely to be established and have a persona—even if that persona is not exemplary of how one is in their offline, everyday life.  It gives the phenomenon far more depth in that respect.

Per the “Friends” and “friends” differentiation, I am surprised.  I was struck a few years ago when a professor pointed out that the interactions that occur online are, indeed, “real.”  Many of us are quick to romanticize the “realness” of face-to-face interaction, when technically, interaction through other mediums are every bit as “real” as that of face-to-face.  I think that perhaps because online communication is still so new and so consistently evolving, it is difficult for many of us to comprehend.  This is in large part due to the fact that social networks involve a set of communicative rules that inform and are influenced by the norms and reality of online communication.  Boyd and Ellison deem online relationships “Friends” with a capital “F” because “the connection does not necessarily mean friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied” (213).  This is an absolutely ridiculous claim.  If that is the case, then we must go back to the tradition of pen pals and capitalize the “p” in “pals.”  The internet is not the first incident of strange or unconventional communication with strangers.  Writing and telephone were likely broached with the same insecurity and confusion with which Boyd and Ellison approach social media.  I don’t think it is entirely their fault; I do believe that because they were examining the phenomenon in such an early phase of its existence, their results simply don’t apply now in the way that they might have several years ago.  In fact, I cannot say with any security that a study conducted today would even have any significance or validity in social media within the next 5 years.  The rapidity and consistency with which it changes, then, I think is a more important subject to understand before we try to set some confining rules over what social media entails.  Then, I believe that we will begin to understand what social media truly is when we understand how and why people are using 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.