Social Network Site

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Refers to sites such as Linked In that allow people to manage relationships.



Definition

By Danah Boyd at http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/11/10/social_network_1.html


"A "social network site" is a category of websites with profiles, semi-persistent public commentary on the profile, and a traversable publicly articulated social network displayed in relation to the profile.

Dare Obasanjo considers them to be a "a subset of Social Graph applications."

To clarify:


1. Profile. A profile includes an identifiable handle (either the person's name or nick), information about that person (e.g. age, sex, location, interests, etc.). Most profiles also include a photograph and information about last login. Profiles have unique URLs that can be visited directly.

2. Traversable, publicly articulated social network. Participants have the ability to list other profiles as "friends" or "contacts" or some equivalent. This generates a social network graph which may be directed ("attention network" type of social network where friendship does not have to be confirmed) or undirected (where the other person must accept friendship). This articulated social network is displayed on an individual's profile for all other users to view. Each node contains a link to the profile of the other person so that individuals can traverse the network through friends of friends of friends....

3. Semi-persistent public comments. Participants can leave comments (or testimonials, guestbook messages, etc.) on others' profiles for everyone to see. These comments are semi-persistent in that they are not ephemeral but they may disappear over some period of time or upon removal. These comments are typically reverse-chronological in display. Because of these comments, profiles are a combination of an individuals' self-expression and what others say about that individual." (http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/11/10/social_network_1.html)

Characteristics

From http://nform.ca/publications/social-software-building-block :

1. Identity - a way of uniquely identifying people in the system

2. Presence - a way of knowing who is online, available or otherwise nearby

3. Relationships - a way of describing how two users in the system are related (e.g. in Flickr, people can be contacts, friends of family)

4. Conversations - a way of talking to other people through the system

5. Groups - a way of forming communities of interest

6. Reputation - a way of knowing the status of other people in the system (who's a good citizen? who can be trusted?)

7. Sharing - a way of sharing things that are meaningful to participants (like photos or videos)


Typology

Ego-Centric Social Network vs. Object-Centric Social Network

"let’s consider two types of social networks: ego-centric and object-centric. An ego-centric social network places the individual as the core of the network experience (Orkut, Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster) while the object-centric network places a non-ego element at the center of the network. Examples of object-centric networks include Flickr (social object: photograph), Dopplr (social object: travel instance), del.icio.us (social object: hyperlink) and Digg (social object: news item). The characteristics of ego- and object-centric networks are similar, and a human can certainly be considered a social object, but I delineate based on the significant experiential difference." (http://fstutzman.com/2007/11/05/social-network-transitions/)

of Users

"From a new report commissioned by MySpace. The report is called “MySpace 08: People. Content. Culture:


The biggest takeaway is the 6 social networking user archetypes that the report comes away with:

Netrepreneurs: People who accessed the sites for the sole purpose of making money (4%).

Connectors: People who revel in passing on information and links whenever they come across something they find interesting (10%).

Transumers: People who follow the lead of others and join groups connected to their hobbies (28%).

Collaborators: People who use social networking sites to create events (5%).

Essentialists: People who use social networking sites to stay in touch with friends and family (38%).

Scene Breaking: People who hunt down new bands and talent online and share that through the site (5%). (http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/24228)


Five types of friends

Andy DeSoto: "you shouldn’t brave the world of social networks without the aid of these five kinds of friends:


Creative, charismatic, and talented, content creators provide the backbone of any social networking experience: quality content. Ranging from the new media titans over at Revision 3 to your neighbor filming his dog in the backyard, these guys provide the foundation for discussion and innovation all across the internet.

Their true gift of a content creator is the ability to conjure something out of nothing. Make friends with them by appreciating the time and effort that goes into their creations, and provide complimentary comments often.


If you cloned yourself a hundred times, you’d never be able to keep up with all the great material that’s emerging on the Internet each and every day (and you’d need 100 more to help avoid the junk, anyway). Human filters are the users that have the superhuman ability to parse hundreds to thousands of streams per day and only share the good stuff with you and their friends. They hunt so you don’t have to.

The real contribution of human filters is being able to quickly find what matters and protect the trust of those that count on them. Earn their friendship by thanking them for their efforts and passing on occasional leads you may come across. These are the individuals that create and participate in discussions, threads, and topics all over the Internet. When they see something they like, they don’t just smile and move on– they talk about it, share it, debate about it, promote it. Message boards, comments, and replies would be much quieter without these individuals, so they’re a must to have on board.


Conversationalists are necessary because they provoke a high level of discussion that betters everyone who participates. Befriend them by participating with them openly, always keeping civilty in mind.


There’s some weird and wild stuff out there, and the oddballs always manage to discover it. Unlike the human filters who process and whittle away, these spoony bards have some preternatural ability to discover the strange, unnerving, and bizarre. How they do it is a mystery, but there’s no doubt that these folks provide an occasional and much-needed lightness and humor to the daily grind.


Oddballs are crucial because they make social networks a happier and more interesting place. They’ll take to you fast if you show a zany and unpredictable side every once in a while! The Connector


The web would be nothing without people. Connectors are the extraverted individuals who realize this and use their people skills, contacts, and other resources to bring people together. They’re the ones that are always recommending someone new to meet, introducing new people to different networks, or generally just being good-natured and amiable.

Everyone needs connectors because no one wants to be lonely. Get to know these people by embracing, rather than avoiding, their personability." (http://www.andydesoto.com/commentary/five-kinds-of-friends/)

Examples

MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Cyworld, Mixi, Orkut


Geographical Spread

From a world map of social network sites at http://valleywag.com/tech/data-junkie/the-world-map-of-social-networks-273201.php


"* Orkut leads in the Indian subcontinent, as well as Brazil;

  • Facebook is stronger, internationally, than Myspace, with surprising strongholds in the Middle East;
  • hi5.com is the most international of all the social networks, leading in Peru, Colombia, Central America, and other, scattered countries such as Mongolia, Romania, and Tunisia;
  • both Bebo and Skyblog follow colonial patterns, the first strong in smaller English-speaking countries such as Ireland and New Zealand, and the latter in Francophone countries;
  • and Friendster, the original social network, leads all across Southeast Asia.
  • Fotolog, a photo service defeated in the US by Friendster, has re-emerged as the dominant social network in Argentina and Chile."

(http://valleywag.com/tech/data-junkie/the-world-map-of-social-networks-273201.php)


Discussion

Against Isolated Silo's

Om Malik argues that social network sites should be a feature of the general web experience, and not located in countless separate sites that function as isolated silo's.

Read his commentary at http://gigaom.com/2007/02/05/are-social-networks-just-a-feature/

The Six Social Needs Served by Social Network Sites

From a report by Communispace [1]:

"The Six Social Needs People Seek in Social Networks


1. Expressing personal identity: online social networks provide people with the ultimate tool for defining and redefining themselves, as evidenced in profile pages on Facebook and MySpace.


2. Status and self-esteem: the need for autonomy, recognition and achievement are essential to our sense of self-worth and are fulfilled in online communities, blogs, and social networks that provide a way to develop and manage a virtual reputation.


3. Giving and getting help: people have a need to both seek and provide help to others.Mutual assistance between strangers is a phenomenon that has been uniquely enabled by the Internet.


4. Affiliation and belonging: online communities are becoming the way people find, create and connect with others “just like me” – people who share similar tastes, sensibilities, orientations or interests.


5. Sense of community: a sense of belonging or affiliation alone is not equivalent to a true sense of community. Achieving a real sense of community requires long-lasting reciprocal relationships and a mutual commitment to the needs of the community as a whole.


6. Reassurance of value and self worth. People want to be reassured of their worth and value, and seek confirmation that what they say and do matters to others and has an impact on the world around them. Meeting all 5 + 1 of these social needs generally requires the level of intimacy and facilitation that are the hallmarks of smaller, invitation only online communities." (http://www.communispace.com/research/abstract/?Type=All%20About%20Communities&Id=38)


On the political potential of social network sites

Cautionary remarks by Danah Boyd:

"A key aspect of SNSes is scale. Telephones allow people to communicate over long distances. Activists know that the bullhorn of the Web lets them reach many more people, even in the context of a supposed shared space. The Internet not only collapses space and time, but beyond bandwidth, there is no additional structural cost between communicating with ten people and broadcasting to millions.

Infinite scaling may be structurally possible online, but the attention economy—the tax on people’s time and attention—regulates what actually scales. Just because someone wants to reach millions does not mean that they can effectively do so. Content may be public, but the public may not be interested in your content. Likewise, just because a private message is intended for ten people does not guarantee that it will stay just with those people if there is broader interest. Public and private are only guidelines online because there are no digital walls that can truly keep what is desired in and what is not out.

This possibility of scaling is what tickles the fancy of most political dreamers, who see the Internet as the ultimate democratizing technology. However, people pay attention to what interests them. Not surprisingly, offline or online, gossiping is far more common and interesting to people than voting. While the Internet makes it much easier for activated people to seek out information and networks of like-minded others, what gains traction online is the least common denominator. Embarrassing videos and body fluid jokes fare much better than serious critiques of power. Gossip about Hollywood celebrities is alluring; the war in Iraq is depressing.

Over the last decade, the dominant networked publics have shifted from being topically organized to being structured around personal networks. Most users no longer seek out chat rooms or bulletin boards to discuss particular topics with strangers. Instead, they are hanging out online with people that they already know. SNSes are explicitly designed to be about “me and my friends.” Structurally, a social network site is the quintessential personal network tool. People are exposed to the things that their friends choose to share. If that content is valued, it is spread further through friend networks. Lack of shared interest results in a lack of spreadability.

Social network sites create cavernous echo chambers as people reiterate what their friends posted. Given the typical friend overlap in most networks, many within those networks hear the same thing over and over until they believe it to be true. It was the echo chambers of the blogosphere in 2004 that convinced mass media that Howard Dean had more traction in the U.S. presidential campaign than he did. Echo chambers are problematic because they give the impression that activists have spread a message further than they have.

Just as politically engaged people know one another, alienated and uninterested people mainly know people like themselves. Bridging the structural holes that divide these groups is just as challenging online as offline, if not more so. Offline, you know if a door has been slammed in your face; online, it is impossible to determine the response that the invisible audience is having to your message. " (http://rebooting.personaldemocracy.com/node/54)

Policy Recommendations

Recommendations for a safer SNS usage, by Enisa

  • Review and Reinterpret Regulatory Framework: Social Networking was not around when current legislation (especially data protection law) was created. Clarification or even modification is needed in particular of the Dir. 2002/58 on privacy and electronic communications.
  • Increase Transparency of Data Handling Practices
  • Awareness-raising & education: recommendations include “real-time” education of users, campaigns for schools, security best practice training for software developers and security conscious corporate policy for SNS usage.
  • Discourage banning of SNS in schools: instead favouring co-ordinated campaigns to educate children, teachers and parents in a controlled and open way in safe usage of SNS.



More Information

Related entries:

  1. Giant Social Graph ; Social Graph

More:

  1. The topic is monitored through our Delicious tag at http://del.icio.us/mbauwens/Social-Network-Sites
  2. Sam Rose introduces object-oriented social networks, at http://www.communitywiki.org/en/SocialNetwork
  3. Comparative review of nine sites, including fully open ones such as People Aggregator, at http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/07/24/9-ways-to-build-your-own-social-network/
  4. Special issue of JCMC journal at http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html