SNS = Social Network Sites (not Super Nintendo System) Boyd and Ellison

I’m guessing that most Americans understanding of the history of Social Network Sites (SNS) comes from the movie The Social Network, myself included.  Based on that, I assumed that there was MySpace and Friendster and then Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook smote them.  Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison, however, clear that all up in their article Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.  I think the thing that surprised me the most about the history part of this article is how quickly the members of the various social networks abandoned them when they got annoyed.

When Friendster got more popular, the network performance suffered and then as more and more people joined it became less cool, “. . . exponential growth meant a collapse in social contexts: Users had to face their bosses and former classmates alongside their close friends.”  If FB messes up bigtime could they fold up too?  I can’t remember where I read this, but I have heard that many young people are abandoning FB (or are at least downplaying it) in favor of Twitter since their Mom and Dad haven’t joined Twitter yet and they can still say what they want.

Now Facebook has been pretty stable in terms of performance, but it definitely seems to be declining in the coolness area.  Maybe it is just me, but the more people I add to my “Friends” the less I post to FB.  Yes, there are privacy settings, but figuring them out is like doing one of those logic puzzles.  You know, “Jane likes bananas and grapes, but only on Sundays.  Bill hates grapes and likes bananas, but will only eat them in the morning.  What kind of fruit can Jane and Bill eat on Tuesday afternoon.”  Is there anyone out there that hasn’t been burned by a status update that somehow made it to someone that it shouldn’t have?

And now our employers are busy implementing their own internal SNSs, “This growth has prompted many corporations to invest time and money in creating, purchasing, promoting, and advertising SNSs.”  It’s one thing to post something that annoys your Sister-in-Law, it is something else entirely to offend the Director of Marketing (or some other muckety-muck).  I have no evidence of this, but I suspect that this is a significant reason why most corporate social networks are lame: no one wants to offend anyone so no one challenges anything–no matter how stupid.

In our private life we can choose our friends and we stand a chance in understanding our audience, “In listing user motivations for Friending, boyd (2006a) points out that “Friends” on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense; instead, Friends provide context by offering users an imagined audience to guide behavioral norms.”  But corporate SNSs are guided by org charts and not personal relationships.  Without having this guide, how can companies leverage the power of social networking for collaboration and sharing without triggering all the bad aspects–misunderstanding and mistrust?  And add cultural differences to the list and it starts to look a little hopeless.

But Boyd and Ellison do offer a little hope, I think, when they say, “Although exceptions exist, the available research suggests that most SNSs primarily support pre-existing social relations. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) suggest that Facebook is used to maintain existing offline relationships or solidify offline connections, as opposed to meeting new people.”  Maybe rather that dictating to people who their “friends” should be inside a company, they should allow people to share comments with colleagues of their choosing. It seems counterintuitive, but maybe we need less connections to get more sharing.

Posted on September 21, 2012, in Social Media, Society, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It is definitely not just you! I have noticed that the larger my Facebook network gets, the less I post. For me, this mostly applies to status updates; I still post on friends’ walls and message them to communicate. At this point I’d just rather avoid saying anything inflammatory and the hassle of responding to people who don’t agree with me. On the other side of the spectrum, I don’t want to be that person who always post benign, boring status updates either–so I’ve just started avoiding them unless I really have something special to say.

    You bring up a good point about Facebook’s complicated privacy settings. I’m guessing most people don’t use them because they can’t or don’t want to figure them out. Despite being complicated, though, I think that having them makes people feel like they have options in controlling their information. I think the privacy settings may be a major reason for Facebook’s success thus far; I could be wrong, but I don’t think any of its predecessors offered a similar feature.

    • FB would totally be worthless without the privacy settings–I agree with you there. But, there is still that annoying fact that there is really no such thing as privacy if you post it to the web.

      My neighbor had a bad day at work and posted some snarky comments about her boss to her status. Now, her boss was absolutely not on her Friends list, but one of the people that was her “friend” took a screenshot and posted it to her FB page so her boss could see it. A pretty jerky move for sure, but there is really no way to stop people from doing that kind of stuff.

  2. Given we are in an Election Year, I’m seeing more and more contentious debates happening on FB. These could get lots of people I know in “trouble” but as Stout profs learned last year, so can posting a picture of Firefly’s Nate Fillion on your office door: But guess what? Social media [in the form of novelist Neil Gaiman and his nearly 2 million Twitter followers] saved the day!

    • Wow, that’s nuts! It was good that social media came to the rescue of this professor, but, like the guy from FIRE said, if there wasn’t a tie-in to Firefly to make this newsworthy, it sounds like the school administration would have just stomped on this guy.

      On the flipside, what would have happened if this professor had posted a similar quote to a social media site and this police officer had come across it? In that case social media could have doomed him rather than saved him.

      It is really pretty sad that this whole incident ever occurred in the first place. The fact that anyone would be so paranoid and afraid that they would see this as a potential threat speaks volumes to the state of society. When I was in college there was just political correctness censoring speech for fear that it might offend someone, and now we are searching for threats in TV show posters?

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