This article examines the future of social networking sites by looking at current trends in the market, specifically Cisco’s seemingly odd decision to buy the tiny social networking company Tribe.net. Cisco’s decision reflects the belief that social networking sites will soon be everywhere, and they want to get into the game right now in order to offer these services to their clients. The article discusses the future of social networking Websites, hypothesizing that they will continue to grow in number and type. It also discusses the possibility that although large-scale sites like facebook.com and MySpace.com have been immensely popular, other niche sites (like Shelfari) are becoming more popular. These sites allow users to gain more control over their network and express their interests in a more focused community than, say, facebook.com. However, there are certain barriers to entry for social networking sites, and Cisco (and other large corporations who try to dive into this market) very well may face some of these difficulties. First of all, it is tough to get consumers to initially buy into a social network until many other people have also signed up. Also, getting consumers to sign up for multiple sites is difficult because of the redundancy and tedium of entering the same information. This article is interesting in that it shows how ubiquitous and economically important social networks have become. Cisco clearly thinks it a worthwhile investment and that there are diverse possibilities for social networks. However, this article also points out the challenges of starting a social networking site. Something this article did not mention are the joint deals that are being made between corporations and social networking sites, like Facebook.com's deal with Comcast. This is another dimension of diversity and growth for this industry.
This article did offer a succinct look at how far social networking sites have come and where they might go. I was especially intrigued by the idea of a long tail of social networking on the Internet which could be much more personalized; and yet there is also the convenience of the larger-scale systems. Currently, there is a mix of the large and small, and I’m interested to see how these acquisitions (like Cisco’s) affect the future of social networks. The problem for small networks is that they must overcome the aggravation of joining and of the smallness of their communities; I think the way to do that is to appeal to the smaller, niche markets which want to stay small.
Call#: Van Pelt Library HM851 .V576 2003
This article studies the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV), an online community situated in a small Virginia town, in order to ascertain how users “use the network and make meanings of their use, interactions and contributions” (329). It examines this online community as a case study. The article describes online communities as characterized by shared location as opposed to virtual communities which are characterized by shared interest (some newer networks, like facebook.com, are sort of combinations of both). He also discusses how “networlds” erase social status; this isn’t true with the new social networks that millions of students and young people are a part of. If anything, networks like Facebook.com and MySpace.com actually create a new kind of social status that members maneuver. The article also defines “flame wars” (conflicts within the community between members) as the process by which online communities negotiate and self-define their communities. In the case of BEV, a certain member named Harry sparked controversy, but it was actually good for the network: it drove people to be more participative.
Silver, David. "Communication, Community, Consumption: An Ethnographic Exploration of an Online City." From the book listed above, pp.327-352.
This article provides a good background in a case study of early online communities and highlights many scholars in the field (check out the references for other places to go for research); it also establishes a useful vocabulary for discussing issues in internet social networks. The potential power of these online communities is seen in the blurring of the border between online and offline communities, “the virtualization of real space” and vice versa. The online community BEV didn’t succeed as a real community on the Internet, but ended up being more of “an online sphere for consumption” used in very practical, as opposed to social ways. The flame wars actually drove more people to be interested in the network; social drama gave BEV a temporary boost, but it still didn’t excel in the way its founders had hoped. This very early example of an online community is dated in its practice, but the case study is still useful to read in the way that it predicts the greater social networks of the future which have worked out some of the kinks that failed in this system (like being so geographically limited). Many of the issues it brings up, like the blurring of borders between virtual and real, are still pertinent in social networks today.
Call#: Van Pelt Library HM1106 .B37 2001
This book examines online personas and how people are perceived online versus in person. It also focuses on the discrepancies between those two identities and how relationships change when people who have “known” each other online meet face-to-face. The book does a sweeping study of the internet and relationships, both online and offline, discussing how the internet has changed our interpersonal dynamics. The chapters I found the most useful were : Ch. 3, “Internet Discussion Lists and Forms of Address” which examines group dynamics in social networks and the trends of lurking and flaming, and the different implications of oral speech in person versus written speech on the internet; Ch. 8, “Changing Social Concepts of Community” which provides a case study of a social network which decided to meet face-to-face and how that changed the group dynamics; and Ch.11, “The Presentation of Self in Internet Environments” which defines a person’s net persona and how it may differ from his actual self, highlighting the performative aspect of social networks when presenting the self.
The book at times is a little too general, presenting ideas that are a little obvious, but Ch.8 was especially useful for me, as I am looking into identify formation online and how that affects one’s perception and performance of self. This chapter looks at the VC-L social network, a small group of people who belonged to the online network to discuss politics. After deciding to meet, the dynamics of the group changed dramatically. Popularity politics and insecurities came out which were never present before. After meeting, people were disappointed by their expectations of what certain people would be like. The social network was not the same afterwards and suffered from smaller membership. I am interested in how this might apply to current social networking sites on a larger scale, like Facebook.com. Facebook is an interesting hybrid because people often meet before becoming Facebook friends, but one may learn more about the new “friend” by his Facebook page than by the actual face-to-face encounter. The same dynamics of popularity, self-consciousness, and expectation come into play here. Ironically, they could also be reversed in the case of Facebook. A person might meet someone, Facebook “friend” them, and then be disappointed by their lack of other Facebook friends or lackluster profile. This book brings to the forefront the ideas of identity formation online and the conflicts that can occur when online and offline relationships collide.