danah boyd (here’s why she doesn’t capitalise her name) and Nicole Ellison make some interesting points in their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2007). Importantly they offer a definition of social network sites.
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.
Interestingly, they go on to explain why they steer clear of the term “Networking” because of its connotations of necessarily initiating relationships between strangers – meeting new people. boyd & Ellison argue that is possible but not common practice. It’s the sharing of your social network that makes social network sites unique.
Huberman, Romero and Wu (2008) sought to define the extent to which Twitter drives the creation of a user’s social networks. With Twitter, creation of a link or connection to another user does not require confirmation from the other party. It’s a one-way connection. Huberman et al. defined a third category of a user’s social graph – “friends”, which they say are the people to whom the user has directed at least two posts.
This implies the existence of two different networks: a very dense one made up of followers and followees, and a sparser and simpler network of actual friends. The latter proves to be a more influential network in driving Twitter usage since users with many actual friends tend to post more updates than users with few actual friends. On the other hand, users with many followers or followees post updates more infrequently than those with few followers or followees. (p. 6, 8 ) (**edit – I just discovered an 8 followed by ) gives me this emoticon 8) – not sure if this is in APA Referencing guidelines!! **)
We are sharing our social networks like never before. By searching my Facebook and Twitter pages, people can easily see not just information about me but also links to those people I know, have known and care about. It throws up many questions about privacy. Facebook has recently been at the centre of the privacy storm because of its constant changing of privacy settings – it’s open by default, where everything is opt out rather than opt in. boyd & Ellison (2008) argue the more a person trusts a social network site, the more willing they are to share information on the site. On his blog buzzmachine.com, Jeff Jarvis (2010) argues Facebook has confused our personal social networks (he calls it “a public”) with “the public” – that is everyone. He says they confused sharing with publishing.
when I blog something, I am publishing it to the world for anyone and everyone to see: the more the better, is the assumption. But when I put something on Facebook my assumption had been that I was sharing it just with the public I created and control there. That public is private. Therein lies the confusion.
Internet pioneer Vint Cerf (2008) famously told journalist John Cook on the seattlepi.com blog (the first major metro daily newspaper to go online-only) that on the Internet, “nothing you do ever goes away and nothing you do ever escapes notice.” Cerf noted “there isn’t any privacy, get over it.”
boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html
Cook, J. (2008). Vint Cerf: Internet pioneer, coffee drinker. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved July 8 2010 from http://blog.seattlepi.com/venture/archives/138574.asp
Huberman, B.A., Romero, D.M. & Wu, F. (2008), Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope, (pp 2,6,8). Retrieved July 8 2010, from http://arxiv.org/pdf/0812.1045
Jarvis, J. (2010). Confusing *a* public with *the* public. Retrieved July 8 2010, from http://www.buzzmachine.com/2010/05/08/confusing-a-public-with-the-public/