Monday, November 12, 2007

Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites

Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites is a very useful article that is part of the recent Journal of Computer Mediated Communication which contains a ground breaking sub theme on Social Networks edited by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison. (List of those articles at the end of this blog post.)

Eszter Hargittai's article started answering some questions I have been wondering about in our rush to glorify social networking sites (gotta have one, everyone is using them.) Do they connect us or further reify our differences?

Here are a few snippets to consider...

Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away, despite a familiarity with them? Based on data from a survey administered to a diverse group of young adults, this article looks at the predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. Findings suggest that use of such sites is not randomly distributed across a group of highly wired users. A person's gender, race and ethnicity, and parental educational background are all associated with use, but in most cases only when the aggregate concept of social network sites is disaggregated by service. Additionally, people with more experience and autonomy of use are more likely to be users of such sites. Unequal participation based on user background suggests that differential adoption of such services may be contributing to digital inequality.
Why is Eszter's approach important?
Disaggregating usage by site also makes an important methodological contribution to the study of SNSs. As the results show, disaggregating which specific site one is researching is important, because people do not randomly select into their uses, and aggregate analyses of SNS use may make it difficult to identify important trends. This suggests that researchers should tread lightly when generalizing from studies about the use of one SNS to the use of another such service. While these sites do share commonalities, they also have distinct features—whether at the level of site design or the particular communities who comprise their user base—that may attract different populations and may encourage different types of activities. Thus, an examination of SNSs both in the aggregate and with respect to specific sites is important in order to gain a better understanding of how use of such sites is spreading across various population segments and the social implications of their usage.
We make a lot of assumptions based on the gross numbers. These are the numbers that drive the popular media analysis of social networking sites, so the differences that this research uncovers is useful.

Snippet from the Conclusion
In addition to contributing to the methodological and substantive study of SNSs, the findings in this article also address issues explored in the digital inequality literature. The fact that students select into the use of different services based on their racial and ethnic background, as well as their parents' level of education, suggests that there is less intermingling of users from varying backgrounds than discourse about the supposed freedom of online interactions may suggest. At first glance, it may seem that on the Internet nobody knows who you are (Steiner, 1993). In reality, however, the membership of certain online communities mirrors people's social networks in their everyday lives; thus online actions and interactions cannot be seen as tabula rasa activities, independent of existing offline identities. Rather, constraints on one's everyday life are reflected in online behavior, thereby limiting—for some more than others—the extent to which students from different backgrounds may interact with students not like themselves.
This makes a great deal of sense to me and reflects my experience that we recreate online the types of relationships we have offline in many cases. So the next question is, what creates the place for us to intersect with "the other" in these online spaces in a generative way? If I believe that we are less likely to destroy each other if we have connected in some significant (even if small) way, than do I lose hope that the online world can help heal some of the world's divides, nd instead just further amplify them?

Hargittai, E. (2007). Whose space? Differences among users and non-users of social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 14.

Other articles in the Theme:
  1. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
    danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison
    This introduction describes features of social network sites (SNSs), proposes a comprehensive definition, presents a history of their development, reviews existing SNS scholarship, and introduces the articles in this special theme section.
  2. Signals in Social Supernets
    Judith Donath
    Signaling theory can be used to assess the transformative potential of SNSs and to guide their design to make them into more effective social tools, for example, by leveraging publicly-displayed social networks to aid in the establishment of trust, identity, and cooperation.
  3. Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances
    Hugo Liu
    A social network profile's lists of interests can function as an expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach, different types of taste statements are identified and further investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles collected from MySpace.
  4. Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites
    Eszter Hargittai
    Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away? Based on data from a survey administered to young adults, this article identifies demographic predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster.
  5. Cying for Me, Cying for Us: Relational Dialectics in a Korean Social Network Site
    Kyung-Hee Kim and Haejin Yun
    In-depth interviews reveal that Cyworld's design features encourage users to transcend the high-context communication of Korean culture by offering an alternative channel for elaborate and emotional communication which fosters the reframing of relational issues offline.
  6. Public Discourse, Community Concerns, and Civic Engagement: Exploring Black Social Networking Traditions on
    Dara N. Byrne
    Participants on BlackPlanet are deeply committed to ongoing discussions about black community issues. However, none of these discussions moved beyond a discursive level of civic engagement, suggesting that the potential for mobilization through social networking online has not yet been realized.
  7. Mobile Social Networks and Social Practice: A Case Study of Dodgeball
    Lee Humphreys
    Dodgeball is a mobile social network system that seeks to facilitate social coordination among friends in urban public spaces. This study reports on the norms of Dodgeball use, proposing that exchanging messages through Dodgeball can lead to social molecularization, whereby active members experience and move through the city in a collective manner.
  8. Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube
    Patricia Lange
    Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by manipulating physical and interpretive access to videos. The analysis identifies varying degrees of "publicness" in video sharing, depending on the nature of the video content and how much personal information is revealed.


Blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks for posting this, Nancy. I'll be sharing it with my readers as well.

7:59 AM  

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