Myspace? More like Nice-try-space. If you ask the average teenager about this once-popular social networking site, you’ll likely receive an offhanded shrug, or if you’re lucky an “Oh right, that…” of equal apathy. No longer the social media hotspot it once was, the fact remains that Myspace has long since been outcompeted by other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. This in itself is already a clear indication that danah boyd’s article, Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites, might do well to receive a bit of an update.
boyd’s article, which “[addresses] social network sites and Friendship broadly,” places particular focus on two such sites that grew to popularity around 2003, Friendster and Myspace (boyd, 2). The main focus of boyd’s article is her investigation of Friending and the umbrella term ‘friend’, which, she posits, in social media has come to include definitions of ‘best friend’, ‘coworker’, ‘fan’, ‘acquaintance’, and sometimes even ‘fake friend’. She points out “a prevalent assumption by many observers,” that ‘friends’ on a social network sites are legitimate friends in the physical world, when in reality, many turn out to fit one or more of the aforementioned ‘friend’ roles (boyd, 1). boyd goes further, stating that the point of having ‘friends’ on Friendster and Myspace often became impersonal; turning into a form of collecting–a game–to give other users certain impressions based on your social connections. Myspace, while slightly different, did have the user capacity to amass large quantities of ‘friends’ for seemingly mundane reasons, but also had the effect of creating discrete contexts within the realm of the website. The various groups of friends that users connected with online established specific subcultures within the social network websites which new users would often adhere to. boyd uses the example that “Burners believed that [Friendster] was for Burners, gay men thought it was a gay dating site, and bloggers were ecstatic to have a geek socializing tool.” (14) She talks about a “context collision”, which may happen when two separate subcultures with a mutual friend encounter each other. The last two aspects she discusses are the power play, tension, and emotional investment in the act of ‘friending’ or worse, ‘un-friending’, and the repercussions that certain affordances of social media (such as ranking ‘friends’) might have outside of the digital world.
While boyd’s article is cogent and inclusive of its time–and to her credit, she claims, “I suspect that we will see shifts in how Friendship relates to offline relationship management”–too much in the realm of social media networking has changed since the article’s writing to say it still provides a holistic view of the present social media landscape (18). Today, Twitter allows for one-way social connections and is based on short, broadcasted messages. Facebook gives us the ability for extensive profile customization, and often broadcasts the activities of its users, sometimes even without permission. Tumblr has reconfigured blogging and created new contexts and communities within itself. The main point is, that in order to ascertain a comprehensive view of today’s social media climate, a new analysis that goes further than simply looking at social relationships is needed – one that examines not only the habits of users while making ‘friends’ and ‘Friending’, but also the way they use the website, and the new contexts (e.g. economic, political, etc.) social media sites are being brought into as well.
An article from Mashable.com, Justin Timberlake Teases Sexy New Myspace by Christina Warren, gives us a general idea of how even Myspace is attempting to migrate into these new contexts. The revamped website will not only allow “users [to] log in with Facebook or Twitter,” (another new social networking development: cross-platform-integration) but also to upload pictures like Facebook, and listen to music like iTunes (Warren). It’s apparent that the growing competition in social media is forcing websites to broaden their affordances to even stay contenders in the market. Facebook, too, which has allowed users to play games for quite some time and enjoys integrating other media websites into its interface (Spotify music, Twitter, Tumblr, and most recently a file storage website called Dropbox) has recently started allowing the purchase of tangible gifts with real money (Freeman). It’s clear from these changes that we need a new analysis – one that looks at both the way people use social media sites (for recreation, phatic communication, etc.) as well as the new contexts social media is being placed in.
However, this is not to say that boyd’s article is no longer of use. There is plenty of evidence to support her analysis–it is mainly the narrow breadth of the article that outdates it. Her idea of emotional investment in social media is supported in Kenneth Rosen’s Why Being Unfriended on Facebook Hurts, another Mashable.com article. Rosen says this investment arises from the emotional ties you create with other users on social network platforms, adding that “digital avatars are changing the way we relate to each other and reflect typical social interactions”–an observation quite reminiscent of the prophetic claim from boyd’s earlier article (Rosen). Essentially, he deems the process of ‘friending’ and ‘un-friending’ manipulative – especially when its effects are seemingly invisible. He reasons that we often add emotional investment into digital relationships, and when un-friending occurs because of offline occurrences or conditions, we are that much more devastated. In sum, although it presents a very limited study of social media that is restricted in breadth (but not depth!), Rosen’s article makes it obvious that there’s no denying the crucial grains of truth that come to light from boyd’s article.
Justin Timberlake Teases Sexy New Myspace: http://mashable.com/2012/09/24/new-myspace-video/
Facebook Welcomes Back Gifts: http://mashable.com/2012/09/27/facebook-gifts-2/
Why Being Unfriended on Facebook Hurts: http://mashable.com/2012/09/27/facebook-unfriending/