Friends with Benefits

Boyd addresses the term “friendship” in an offline context, specifically in the American culture. On social networking sites, the act of “friending” someone does not exactly have the same connotation as it does offline. When this trend of “friending” developed on social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace, your “friend” could become anyone from a lover to an acquaintance. By categorizing all connections as “friends”, you loose this distinction between offline friends and acquaintances.

Inconsistency in friending from user to user and site to site can further complicate the term “friend” online. Boyd makes the claim that friendship is site-specific, whereas a friend on Friendster could mean a totally different thing than a friend on MySpace. On MySpace, friendship is a mutual agreement between two users who allow access to each other’s page. On Friendster, however, one does not need to be your friend to access your page, rather the network is defined by four degrees of “gateway friends”.

According to boyd’s article Friend, Friendster and MySpace, with new social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace, the context of the site was emerging through friends’ networks rather than similarities in interests. In other words, these sites “allow you to choose people first and interests second” (boyd). As the number of people you add as your so- called friend on the site increases, there becomes a context collapse. Now your mom, your boss, and your boyfriend are all part of your online audience, influencing the way in which you present yourself on the site. Boyd explains further, “Their choice in how to do this is deeply influenced by the technological affordances of a given system and their perception of who might be looking” (boyd).

Boyd argues that your friends on a social networking site define or say something about who you are, and that context emerges through this network of friends. CBS News addresses the new technologies of this concept they refer to as “friend-mining” in the article Friend Mining: Facebook Preps for Social Search Future. CBS explains, “Zuckerberg’s search team is working on something that would derive a set of answers from Facebook first and wouldn’t require a visit to Bing” (CBS News). This would allow users to answers questions like, “What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the last six months and Liked?” (CBS News). This affordance of Facebook would further utilize “friends” to create context on the site as well as online activity outside of Facebook. This article not only addresses the now in social networking sites but also possibilities of the future.

Boyd could update this article by accessing today’s most visited social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. The audience would be able to gauge a better idea of the site-specific friendships that she is describing because they are more likely users of these up-to-date platforms. This would allow readers to conduct a participatory study, aided with the familiarity of social norms on the site. Being already immersed into the online community will help the readers to understand terminology like “bulletin”, “Fakesters” and “Top 8”.

Facebook developed the option of fan pages, separating these pages from profile pages. This avoids the problem that Friendster had with “Fakesters”, where celebrities or bands were creating their profile on the same platform as real people. This option also distinguishes friends from fans on Facebook. The same can be said for MySpace bulletin being replaced by Facebook newsfeeds or Twitter timelines. The functionalities of these affordances are different from site to site, and can be better understood if you are a user of the specific site being referenced in the article. Although Facebook and Twitter may be the top two most visited social networking sites on the Internet today, this could change very suddenly as it has in the past. MySpace’s redesign of their original platform could very well make a comeback and become a fierce competitor of Facebook, Ad Age claims.

The main issues addressed by boyd are still very relevant to today’s social networking sites. Boyd provides a great example of how performance comes into play when recognizing someone as a friend in front of an audience. In offline circumstances, when introducing someone to another, you normally precede the introduction with “meet my friend (insert name here)”. By doing this, you are exerting performative qualities for the audience, whether this person is a true friend or simply an acquaintance. The same occurs online, where there is a loss of distinction between friends and acquaintances because of the presence of the online audience. Boyd recognizes, “The public nature of these sites requires participants to perform their relationship to others” (boyd). The social norms of friending on social networking sites could become so domesticated into everyday life and blurred into reality that it could have a great effect on offline friendships in the future. Boyd makes the claim, “As these sites proliferate and become more culturally embedded, I suspect that we will see shifts in how Friendship relates to offline relationship management”. Now that our offline lives are becoming more publicized, and our online lives are essentially becoming extensions of our offline lives, boyd predicts that the defining factors of online and offline friendship will not be far off from each other. The Seattle Times addresses this same interpretation in the article Are all those ‘friends’ really friends? Why it doesn’t really matter. Author Monica Guzman writes, “We’re used to thinking of friendship as something whole and enduring. But just as iTunes chopped albums into songs and tweets chopped conversations into passing quips, some of the different roles of friendship, like support, encouragement and companionship, can — thanks to social technologies — split off, scatter, and still work”. Guzman and boyd can agree that online friendships are servicing the same support system as offline friendships more and more everyday.

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