ASIS&T 2007: Research Directions in Social Network Websites

Where’s My Fieldsite?
Danah Boyd

Looked at high school students out of school hours. Make sense of what teenagers are doing by looking at snips of their lives. Answer questions, what are the publics in which we live?
Public and private are different for teenagers than for adults. Children have geographically constrained lives. Culture of fear — you might be hurt outside of home. No social spaces outside of home. Commercial spaces are increasingly constrained.
So what do teenagers do? They go online. Cause and effect are reversed from popular conception: children don’t hang out online because they want to, necessarily; they do because it’s the only option.
Networked publics — spaces or collections of people that exist within and through mediating tools that network people. Has 4 properties:
1. Persistence — things stick around.
2. Searchability — you can find things — including your kids. Everyone is searchable. Problem is that you don’t want to be searchable by anyone; you don’t want to be found the wrong person.
3. Replicability — conversations can move from forum to forum. You can edit things and repost. What’s original?
4. Invisible audiences. You don’t get feedback from those with whom you’re addressing. In real world, speaker knows to whom she is speaking. We address our talk to that context. Not so in networked public.
What are social norms online? They are different, and evolving.
ONline concept of friends — putting audience into being. Defining to who you are speaking when you post. “Public by default, private when necessary.”
Teens’ idea of privacy is that they can control the audience, or have semblance of control They do this 3 ways:
1) structural walls — they put up info that hides them.
2) social demand — create a space that’s mine, not yours.
3) playing ostrich — if I don’t see you, you don’t exist.
Public life is changing. Mediated and offline are growing together. Conversations have fluidity — they occur across media. Public life is incorporating all of this — online and offline — into something new.

Information diffusion and users’ behavior in Fotologs
Raquel Recuero

Based on Fotolog users in Brazil. A two-year study. 20% of Brazil’s population has online access; social networking sites are very popular (more profiles than online people).
Fotolog is a simple site. People make fotologs about tons of topics. It’s been extended by its users.
Identity appropriation — create an identity. People select images and text carefully — lots of thought goes into it. Pictures are carefully photoshopped; perception of self is important.
Social interaction appropriation — most important thing in Fotolog. Comments are critical — interaction with Fotolog is important to users. Unique fotolog nickname is important. Groups emerge and conversations take place across groups.
Fotolog is an information tool. Decide what to publish based on perceived gain of doing so. Value is related to social capital. Users think carefully about what info they will put on fotolog — value based on interaction.
Information that creates social interaction spreads within a group before it spreads across the network. Spreads among people who are closely bound. Perceived value is to make people closer to you.
Perceived value of information is what defines what information will be disseminated.

Activism and Social Network Sites
Alla Zollers

Activism: an intentional action to bring about change. Emphasis on change.
May Day protest 2006; students used MySpace to organize walk-outs.
Social network sites consist mainly of weak ties.
Studied 100 Facebook groups (Politics and Beliefs & Causes) and 100 MySpace groups (government and politics). Content analysis.
Does participation in online groups lead to offline action? Unclear. But there is discussion. Does the architecture of the site effect activist activities? Do people interested in activism go to a site because of the site, or because their friends are already there?

Analysis of Online Social Networks
Fred Stutzman

Research focus on: 1) privacy; 2) dynamics (how systems grow, how friend patterns change); 3) context (how networks answer situationally relevant needs); 4) affordances (what social networks offer to friend-seekers).
Analyzed network characteristics, connections in the network, status in service, privacy, consent, terms of service.
What to think about when doing this sort of large-scale data collection (in Facebook, in particular)? In Facebook, an out-of-network person has different ability to see others’ information than an in-network person. Faculty see less than students. Anonymizing profiles to protect student privacy. What about consent? IRBs do not have a good way to deal with getting consent from users. Dealing with terms of service of the site. Facebook granted exceptions until 2006.
Built a Facebook application, “Your True Self“. Analyzes your friends’ profiles, shows friends who share similar taste. A way to gather information about users via the Facebook Platform.
Question: what does a “friend” represent? In real world, “friend” is on a continuum; in Facebook, it’s binary. But hard to know what it means.


Q: What governs parental access to MySpace?
A (Boyd): Lots of things. Some kids want parents there, others don’t. Privacy rules by service make a difference. Differences in privacy concepts based on race and class, as well; different concepts of privacy and of utility of tool.
Q: How does online community effect the decline of “belonging” that we see in F2F world?
A (Zollers): THere is interaction and debate in online world; this might translate into further, real-world, action.
A (Boyd): Lack of agency means lack of political engagement. Teenagers don’t have access to meaningful public spaces; so they feel withdrawn and excluded, so don’t participate.
Q: Are there any qualitative research methods to use?
A (Boyd): It depends on the question you’re asking.
Q: Did Stutzman’s analysis take into account kinds of schools?
A (Stutzman): Yes; it covered a wide range of schools.

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