The pace of change really is quick for social media technologies-when I first read Boyd’s “ Friends, Friendsters and Myspace Top 8” I thought about how outdated it was in the sense that no one uses Myspace anymore. Two days later Myspace relaunched. Ironically enough, the exact feature that Boyd analyzed in her article is, in a way, absent from the new design. An article published this week notes that people are no longer friends but rather part of a community:
Unlike the old MySpace and the contemporary Facebook, the site isn’t built around friend-to-friend connections; it’s built around “a community of creators” from every field , from established performers like Timberlake to unknown artists trying to break into the zeitgeist. The new MySpace is expressly designed for artists looking to showcase their work.
It would then appear that Boyd would have to examine friendship in a different manner as at the time she was concerned with friend-to-friend connections. However, I think it is beneficial to first discuss Nancy Baym‘s idea of community and how the new Myspace, in my opinion, adheres to these qualities: it creates a sense of space, sense of shared practice, shared resources and support and shared identities- in fact it appears that these factors were central in its new design. However, it does seem that the new design may be initially lacking in the interpersonal relationship quality. It does not directly facilitate person-to-person connection but rather person-to-group connection. But what I wonder is if this person-to-person connection is needed for a community? It can be argued that the new design eliminates many of the problems Boyd addresses with the idea of friendship based on one-to-one connections and in that way it ultimately creates a stronger community.
Boyd discuss the loss of distinction between friends and acquaintances and the phenomena of overloading on friends and its implications. The reasons people become friends on these sites include: “having lots of friends makes you look popular, it would be socially inappropriate to say no, your list of friends reveals who you are”. Boyd would now most likely have to analyze difference motivations for joining a group on the new site. It is unlikely that popularity, and social norms (not wanting to offend anyone) would still be a factor. There is difficulty surrounding online friendships
“because social network sites do not provide physical walls for context, the context that users create is through their choice of Friends… and addressing multiple audiences simultaneously complicates all relationships, people must make hard choices”.
For example: I may want to post something on Facebook but then I remember my aunt is my friend- so I have to block her from seeing that one photo. But it then gets complicated if you have to filter all your statuses and pictures to cater to certain audiences and different groups of friends. (On a side note: now that I think of it, this was problem was clearly a major factor in the design of google+ and it’s groups: the ability to use one platform to collect friends, but then filter content based on audiences you create.) Boyd notes that there is a loose definition of friendship but in this new Myspace context it appears that the definition has been drastically simplified: you aren’t friends with anyone specifically, but rather you are friends with an idea, a group, an interest. In this way much of the social anxiety noted in the article seems to melt away.
What is the difference between displaying person-to-person connections and displaying group connections? Which one is more useful in creating a community? Boyd notes “the actual collection of Friends and the display of Top Friends provides space for people to engage in identity performance. As Judith Donath and I argued in ‘Public Displays of Connection’ people display social connections to reveal information about who they are (Donath and boyd, 2004)” In this way Facebook or the early Myspace were adhering to community- one we created ourselves on our profiles based on individual people. But why don’t you take it one step further and create your own community on your page of the communities you identify with? Here you are showing people about your taste- rather than your associations with a person. Does this not let us shape ourselves more efficiently in that we don’t have to worry if someone else’s post on our wall reflects poorly on us? I always loved the feature on Facebook where I could click a movie or book that I posted as my favorite and then see all my friends who liked the same book. Sometimes I was surprised and it led me to see people in a different light: in this way we are not judging people based on our mutual friends, but rather our mutual interests.