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February 26, 2008

Again on social networking sites

I've just realized that I might be behind the curve now.  I admit, I'm not keeping a constant watch on news about the Internet, but in my subjective experience, the amount of English-language media coverage given to blogs has decreased whereas it seems to me that the current information technology zeitgeist has been taken over by social networking sites.  You know, stuff like Facebook, MySpace, etc.  My guess is that blogs and bloggers are starting to find their niche in the Anglosphere, thus becoming more mundane with every passing day.  One certainly can't disregard the high visibility of political blogs in the US and the constant commentary on them provided by the traditional news media.

So: blogs are mainstream now.  What else is next?  Social networking sites, apparently (a.k.a. SNS).  I mean, Foreign Policy did an article on them and The freaking Economist has a Facebook group.  Yeah, I know, it's a bit bizarre.  I wonder who's responsible for maintaing that group?

Okay, so perhaps when such staid auld institutions like The Economist have joined Facebook then it's more a sign of being mainstream than cutting edge (and apropos of nothing, but apparently The Economist's website has been redesigned).  However, being so new, in real time as opposed to Internet time, SNSes have barely been studied by academics so far.  Scholars are still grasping at the answers to such basic questions as who uses Social Networking Sites.  Via the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website (see what I mean about blogs becoming mainstream?), however, I found these two links to various stuff around the Internet related to SNSes:

The first is an article from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication by Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist from Northwestern University and contributor to the Crooked Timber group blog entitled "Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites" (2007).

Hargittai mentions that "students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster than they are in the aggregate sample, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionately users of MySpace", which is to say that North American socioeconomic divisions are reflected online by which SNS you join: MySpace for the working class, Facebook for the middle class.  This accords with what danah boyd observed in the blogpost that stirred up quite a lot of online reaction, partly because I think Americans don't like to be reminded that class exists in their country (and as another tangent, I'd actually made the exact same observation as her that Facebook and MySpace users were clearly being segregated according to class and had even been half-assedly formulating a blogpost on the subject, though it's just as well that she broached the subject first since she reaches more people and she actually used more than 50% of her ass when writing the post).

Basically, the point of the article is that who joins and stays with SNSes can be somewhat predicted by various demographic factors, and that we might be seeing the rise of a new social divide, this time between those who use SNSes and those who don't.

The second link is a story about how people inadvertently flock and follow leaders when they are in crowds, such that 5% of crowdgoers can nonverbally direct the movements of the other 95%.  Qué interesante, you say.  Nunca he pensado sobre esta tema.  That's not what I really wanted to point out, though.  Instead, look at the bottom of the press release and see that there are buttons for you to share the story on both Facebook and Digg.  I'm somewhat impressed that the University of Leeds' publicity department is on top of this Web 2.0 thing, since university websites are usually not that up with the haps online.  Perhaps even SNSes are approaching mainstream-ness (mainstreamity? I think I like this one more).

Still, nothing can top my last item, this time coming from the antropologi.info blog: it seems that Owen Wiltshire, a grad student at Concordia University in Montreal, is planning on studying how anthropologists who study online social phenomena form online communities themselves.  Yes, you read that right, an online anthropologist is studying how online anthropologists work with each other online.  It's so deliciously reflexive.  He's also got his own blog, so I might just pop over sometime and say whattup.