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Boyd on ‘writing community into being on social network sites’

danah boyd’s latest article, Friends, friendsters, and top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites in First Monday is a good examination of the nature of ‘friend-ing’. Like many people who actually use social networking sites themselves, boyd is frustrated that a lot of people talking about these sites seriously misunderstand how they are used, particularly by young people. These misunderstandings lead to, at one extreme, a paranoia about stranger danger, and at the other extreme, an overestimating of the real-world ‘value’ of ‘lots of friends’.

While some participants believe that people should only indicate meaningful relationships, it is primarily non-participants who perpetuate the expectation that Friending is the same as listing one’s closest buddies. Failing to understand the culture of Friending that has emerged in social network sites contributes to the fear of the media and concerned parents over how they envision participants to be socializing.

By examining what different participants groups do on social network sites, this paper investigates what Friendship means and how Friendship affects the culture of the sites. I will argue that Friendship helps people write community into being in social network sites. Through these imagined egocentric communities, participants are able to express who they are and locate themselves culturally. In turn, this provides individuals with a contextual frame through which they can properly socialize with other participants. Friending is deeply affected by both social processes and technological affordances. I will argue that the established Friending norms evolved out of a need to resolve the social tensions that emerged due to technological limitations. At the same time, I will argue that Friending supports pre-existing social norms yet because the architecture of social network sites is fundamentally different than the architecture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed. Persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences are all properties that participants must negotiate when on social network sites.

Museums need to be careful to understand the nature of use before they head to deeply into either colonising or building their own social networking sites. The LA-MOCA MySpace page I mentioned a few days ago from Jim Spadaccini’s talk at the NDF indicates they have (at last count) 6,375 ‘friends’ – but what does this actually mean?

Similarly, a few days ago a new user ‘friended’ me on as a result of my NDF paper. What was interesting about this friend-ing was that they explicitly wrote –

Hi,I am not really sure how this works haha but I love ur
music taste and all that…not sure how ading friend thing would do…but just don’t want to forget ur page.Thank you:)

One reply on “Boyd on ‘writing community into being on social network sites’”

This is really interesting stuff. There is no question that “friending” is not the “same as listing one’s closest buddies” but still it is a deliberate act, no matter how casual. It’s certainly a step below “web visits” and perhaps a step above “social bookmarking”?


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