Friday, September 16, 2011

Social Network

We define social network sites as 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. The nature and nomenclature of
these connections may vary from site to site.
While we use the term "social network site" to describe this phenomenon, the term "social
networking sites" also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used
interchangeably. We chose not to employ the term "networking" for two reasons: emphasis
and scope. "Networking" emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers.
While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them,
nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication
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. This can result in connections between individuals that would not otherwise be
made, but that is often not the goal, and these meetings are frequently between "latent ties"
(Haythornthwaite, 2005) who share some offline connection. On many of the large SNSs,
participants are not necessarily "networking" or looking to meet new people; instead, they
are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social
network. To emphasize this articulated social network as a critical organizing feature of
these sites, we label them "social network sites."While SNSs have implemented a wide variety of technical features, their backbone
consists of visible profiles that display an articulated list of Friends
who are also users of
the system. Profiles are unique pages where one can "type oneself into being" (Sundén,
2003, p. 3). After joining an SNS, an individual is asked to fill out forms containing a
series of questions. The profile is generated using the answers to these questions, which
typically include descriptors such as age, location, interests, and an "about me" section.
Most sites also encourage users to upload a profile photo. Some sites allow users to
enhance their profiles by adding multimedia content or modifying their profile's look and
feel. Others, such as Facebook, allow users to add modules ("Applications") that enhance
their profile.
The visibility of a profile varies by site and according to user discretion. By default,
profiles on Friendster and are crawled by search engines, making them visible to
anyone, regardless of whether or not the viewer has an account. Alternatively, LinkedIn
controls what a viewer may see based on whether she or he has a paid account. Sites like
MySpace allow users to choose whether they want their profile to be public or "Friends
only." Facebook takes a different approach—by default, users who are part of the same
"network" can view each other's profiles, unless a profile owner has decided to deny
permission to those in their network. Structural variations around visibility and access are
one of the primary ways that SNSs differentiate themselves from each other.
After joining a social network site, users are prompted to identify others in the system with
whom they have a relationship. The label for these relationships differs depending on the
site—popular terms include "Friends," "Contacts," and "Fans." Most SNSs require bidirectional confirmation for Friendship, but some do not. These one-directional ties are
sometimes labeled as "Fans" or "Followers," but many sites call these Friends as well. The
term "Friends" can be misleading, because the connection does not necessarily mean
friendship in the everyday vernacular sense, and the reasons people connect are varied
(boyd, 2006a).
The public display of connections is a crucial component of SNSs. The Friends list
contains links to each Friend's profile, enabling viewers to traverse the network graph by
clicking through the Friends lists. On most sites, the list of Friends is visible to anyone
who is permitted to view the profile, although there are exceptions. For instance, some
MySpace users have hacked their profiles to hide the Friends display, and LinkedIn allows
users to opt out of displaying their network.
Most SNSs also provide a mechanism for users to leave messages on their Friends'
profiles. This feature typically involves leaving "comments," although sites employ various
labels for this feature. In addition, SNSs often have a private messaging feature similar to
webmail. While both private messages and comments are popular on most of the major
SNSs, they are not universally available.
Not all social network sites began as such. QQ started as a Chinese instant messaging
service, LunarStorm as a community site, Cyworld as a Korean discussion forum tool, and
Skyrock (formerly Skyblog) was a French blogging service before adding SNS, a directory of school affiliates launched in 1995, began supporting
articulated lists of Friends after SNSs became popular. AsianAvenue, MiGente, and
BlackPlanet were early popular ethnic community sites with limited Friends functionality
before re-launching in 2005-2006 with SNS features and structure.
Beyond profiles, Friends, comments, and private messaging, SNSs vary greatly in their
features and user base. Some have photo-sharing or video-sharing capabilities; others have
built-in blogging and instant messaging technology. There are mobile-specific SNSs (e.g.,
Dodgeball), but some web-based SNSs also support limited mobile interactions (e.g.,
Facebook, MySpace, and Cyworld). Many SNSs target people from specific geographical
regions or linguistic groups, although this does not always determine the site's
constituency. Orkut, for example, was launched in the United States with an English-only
interface, but Portuguese-speaking Brazilians quickly became the dominant user group
(Kopytoff, 2004). Some sites are designed with specific ethnic, religious, sexual
orientation, political, or other identity-driven categories in mind. There are even SNSs for
dogs (Dogster) and cats (Catster), although their owners must manage their profiles.
While SNSs are often designed to be widely accessible, many attract homogeneous
populations initially, so it is not uncommon to find groups using sites to segregate
themselves by nationality, age, educational level, or other factors that typically segment
society (Hargittai, this issue), even if that was not the intention of the designers.

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