Hey U, Let’s Be Friends

Friendster and Facebook.

When I was looking at the names of these two social networking websites a few minutes ago, looking at them deep into the structuring of the words, I suddenly had this epiphany: Friendster, as in “Friends-ter”, emphasizes on the “friending” aspect of social networking; while Facebook, as in “Face-book”, gives more attention to the “presentation of face recorded on a book“, or in other words, the presentation of self (as a collection) that’s being shared with one’s friends. It may seem arbitrary at first, but isn’t there some truth to it?

An essay written by Danah Boyd’s in 2006, named “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community into Being on Social Network Sites”, brought us back to the dusted memories of the heydays of Friendster and MySpace. Throughout the essay, Boyd tries to illuminate the idea that personal identity on SNSs is constructed and presented through the visualization of one’s network of Friends:

“Social network sites take this to the next level because participants there write their community into being through the process of Friending. In doing so, they help define themselves and the context in which they are operating. In this way, Friendship serves as a necessary substitute for the lacking structural definition of a situation” (Boyd 17).

By “friending” and “unfriending”, picking “Top Friends”, adding celebrity and interest-related “Fakesters”, etc., the connecting and collecting of Friends became the one affective activity on SNS that can be used to create an image of someone. The social act of “Friending” thus became a performance of identity because context is manifest through who you’re connected to. While it still holds true that the Friends you have indirectly shows the person you are, hence the saying “you are who your friends are“, I believe that the social dynamics on SNS have changed since the article was first published – it has become more sophisticated in its composition and construction.

Now, we have more channels for self-expression. Take Facebook for example, we can express our personalities through posting pictures, sharing links, inputting our activities from the other more interest-focused sites onto your Timeline, and “like”-ing (not necessarily “friend”-ing) pages, which can be bands, organizations, brands, or things that are characteristically interesting/funny. The possibility is limitless. In presenting ourselves, we are now more focused on how our “faces” look on Facebook’s Profile and News Feed – with the website’s recent change of giving you the option to privatize your network of Friends, how many and what kind of friends you have in your social network has become less and less relevant.

The many problems Boyd addressed in regard to social networking sites has been solved, luckily. For example, Boyd addressed the prevailing problem of “context collapse” in social media:

“Because of how these sites function, there is no distinction between siblings, lovers, schoolmates, and strangers. They are all lumped under one category: “Friends” (10).

When collisions of context happens, it get hard to address (or not to address) different clusters of audience. This problem of unsorted Friends has been solved by Google+’s Circles of Friends and, most recently, Facebook’s revamped “Shared Activity Plugin“, which provides users with even more control of what to show and whom they’re what to show it to.

So, what is the significance of this article to today’s readers?

Let me start with a news…

A few days ago, Twitter revoked their recent decision of giving restrictions to the media network’s API (Application Programming Interface). During the Online News Association conference, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo explained:

“I think of tech companies as companies whose primary responsibility is creating a platform,” he said. “I think of media companies as curating and creating editorial content.”

This is the perfect example of why social media companies should not identify themselves as the “police” of their websites. Instead, web creators should be the curator, the editor, providing a creative free space serving the users. Going back to Boyd’s article, we see the mistakes Friendster made when dealing with the issue of “users not using the site’s features the way they intended them to use”.

  • When fake profiles of celebrities and non-human brands/ideologies/parties/etc. proliferated, they executed the “Fakers Genocide” (6), killing it all.
  • When people started using “friend collectors” to get access to more friends, they started to enforced a quota of how many Friends one can have in their social network (7).

MySpace’s first success was founded upon their embrace of Friendster Fakers – people rushed into the site to “befriend” with their favorite bands. And Facebook gained even larger success by utilizing these user-designed “sub-features” and making them into “official” ones: they created “Fan Page” and “likes” to accommodate users’ desire to be connected to and hence be presented with what/whom they are interested in.

From Boyd’s essay, a lesson can be indirectly learned: web designers should not only embrace, but also modify the website to the tastes of the users. In a nutshell, it is important to use the reconstructing of the platform’s “technical affordances” to organize/regulate the website, but nevertheless,  providing a better service based on user-interest should always be at the core of a website’s heart.

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2 comments

  1. Good article! I like that you pointed out how Facebook gives more attention to “the presentation of the self.” Recently, I stumbled upon Samantha Murphy’s Mashable article, “Want to Highlight Your New Facebook Pictures? Pay to Promote Them” reporting that Facebook announced users can promote their personal posts to friends for a fee, starting today: October 3. Interestingly, for about $7 people can make sure their friends see their posts. I can see people reaping the advantages of this new affordance for wedding and pet photos. In a blog post Facebook said, “When you promote a post – whether it’s wedding photos, a garage sale, or big news – you bump it higher in news feed so your friends and subscribers are more likely to notice it” (Murphy). I think that act of simply paying a SNS to promote your content changes the dynamic of friendship. Friends should not have to pay their friends to listen. Thus, it reveals that the different kinds of Facebook friends are increasing. What do you think of people paying Facebook to increase the chances of their friends viewing their content?
    See article: http://mashable.com/2012/10/03/facebook-promoted-posts-personal/

    1. It came across a bit shocking when I heard Facebook is making people pay to promote themselves. This reminds me of what we read this week in Lui’s article on the “taste statement types”. How are we supposed to categorize these self-promoted posts? I think the answer lays somewhere in between “prestige” and “differentiation” statement and if Facebook doesn’t differentiate the paid post from the rest, this action can be a (plotted) “authenticity statement” too. If we see Facebook as a common place for maintaining friendships, then this enabling of promotion is like paying to get attention and support from friends. Isn’t this an extreme form of capitalizing our connections with friends? Horror, the horror…

      I am extremely concerned about how this new feature would turn out to be. Our news feed has already been bombarded by “Facebook Recommendations” of commercial brands and Fan Page event and product promotions – now even our friends can pay their way into our attention! News feed has become a billboard for commercial and personal promotions, not like how it first started to be – a neutral place for us to see what our friends, the ones that matters the most, are up to -anymore.

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