Judah Boyd’s article “Friends, Friendster, Myspace: Top 8” looks at two of the first SNS on the internet, Friendster and Myspace, and how they were built on the premise that users would have to have friends and share friends in order for others to become friends. She goes on to explore what Friendship (other users of the SNS) means in comparison to friendship (social relations between two people), and how the former affects the culture of a social network site’s users. What Boyd found was that a user’s Friend choices online were significantly related to their offline social life; the online world parallels the offline world, but differs in the context with which it is evaluated.
Though Boyd highlights the affordance of connecting with large amounts of people that SNS has made possible, I feel as though her analysis on what it means to be Friends online and the implications behind why publicly displaying those connections is so important. In the summer of 2003 when Friendster first launched, the purpose of the site was to create a profile, answer some questions, and based on that information, be able to enter into the site with a basis by which others can compare interests. However, Friendster limited the degree to which users could ‘profile surf’ to four (friends of friends of friends of friends), creating a limited network for those looking to use the site for the ability to access the information of others. Thus, users began friending ‘gateway’ friends, those who were in their four degrees of network who had an extremely large collection of other friends, which were not accessible to the original friender. This type of activity by the early users of Friendster was specifically due to the technological limitations that the platform imposed, and should not be used as a measure for why people are so much more liberal in Friending others online.
Today there is Facebook, the main SNS now used by the same age group Friendster had, but the ‘gateway’ Friends and ‘collectors’ that had corrupted the integrity of Friendster would not pose a problem to this platform. Instead, Facebook is running into issues with people/businesses fake ‘liking’ business/brand pages within the site. CNN reported on the issue Facebook has seen recently where third party vendors have been caught using malware amongst other forms of deception to literally sell likes. This deception completely goes against Facebook’s intentions for the ‘like’ feature. The ‘like’ was originally created to benefit people who had a genuine ‘interest in hearing from a specific page’ by allowing them to ‘engage with that brand’s content.’ Given this article, we can see the changing conditions of SNS and how Judah Boyd’s analysis of how Friendship affects the culture of SNS may no longer apply. People are not just using Facebook to network. It is also a place for people to publicly show support for businesses they are truly interested in, and where businesses can go to get feedback from their customers. Because the ability to profile surf is an affordance that was built into the platform itself Judah would have to expand her analysis beyond just person to person and include person to business as well. Today, the problem lies not in the authenticity of friendships between users, but in the authenticity of a page’s fan base.
On the other hand, Judah Boyd’s article does highlight an important point about how people choose to represent themselves within an SNS. In real life, the context of a situation is defined by one’s surrounding environment. For example, a girl may be seen by his/her professors as conservative and quiet because she is required to wear a uniform all day, but her friends may see her as a wild child because outside of school she dresses in short tight outfits and is constantly attending parties. The problem arises for the girl when she decides to friend a professor on a SNS. As Judah Boyd describes, “when context is defined by whom one Friends, and addressing multiples audiences simultaneously complicates all relationships, people must make hard choices” (Boyd, 15). Parents typically tend to fear SNS more than any other group because they see representations of their children that do not fit the representations they may want their children to be portraying. A recent article posted on IBN live shows the extent to which kids, despite parents’ determination to keep them off SNS, find their way to sites regardless. As a matter of fact, I think it is worse that kids have to lie about their age, and sneak online behind the backs of their guardians because it opens the door to an unmediated and unsupervised cyber world.