The Affordances and Norms of New Sites

danah boyd discusses the norms of Friending on social media sites, focusing on MySpace and Friendster in her paper Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites. She examines different groups and looks into how Friending people affects and forms communities. boyd will find that Friending people on social network sites helps individuals form communities online. She states in her introduction that she will argue “through these imagined egocentric communities, participants are able to express who they are and locate themselves culturally”(2).

boyd wrote this paper in 2006 and therefore it is obvious to a reader now that her analysis needs some updating. Her work doesn’t include Facebook or Twitter, both common social networking sites used today. Boyd lists the common responses she received for reasons for Friendship on social networking sites and notes that “most reveal how technical affordances affect people’s incentive to connect”(8). Therefore, it is imperative to look at Facebook and Twitter today to update her analysis.

boyd states how all “friends” are put into one category despite different relationships defined offline such as, lovers, schoolmates, and siblings. Today, these groups of different relationships can be categorized on different sites. These categories may include family, school friends, and camp friends. Friending norms are also different on each site and some norms may depend on the privacy settings. Facebook privacy settings allow you to tailor your profile for certain people. I recently received a friend request from a mom of a girl I went to High School with. I felt the need to accept, because as the paper said, it would be awkward to say no, but I put her on limited profile setting. boyd doesn’t take this technological affordance into account when writing her paper. She inform us about context creation and the situation people face, especially kids, who want to seem cool on their profile, but have to think about the possibility of upsetting parents who see it. Amy Byrnes writes about a principal using twitter to reach her students and parents in Hear That Sound? Your Principal is Tweeting You. Today this is a norm, using new communication tools to interact with people, especially younger individuals. Byrnes writes about the “shift in the social media landscape” when her son Friended her, but wasn’t thrilled about her following him on twitter. While it wasn’t explained why, it might be due to the privacy settings easily set on Facebook, allowing your page to be perfected for your parents. With Twitter, aside from making your account private, you may be constantly worrying about your parents finding an offensive tweet and censoring your thoughts.

boyd also discusses the idea of being Friends with strangers on social networking sites. If a Friendship on these sites doesn’t mean anything in terms of relationships offline, what’s the harm in accepting a request of someone that seems interesting? While this may be the norm on Friendster and MySpace, this is not considered the norm on Facebook. Sam Biddle writes in Why is Part of Facebook Broken? about the tool on Facebook that came to the site in 2008. If you have ever went on your Facebook account (which I am sure you have in the last 24 hours) you would have seen a section of “people you may know.” Did you ever think why strangers are on this list? Biddle has, and he writes about it for He believes that in order for Facebook to grow stronger, your network has to be growing as well.  Facebook gives you friend suggestions. They admit that the formula is “automatic” and therefore you might find people you don’t want to Friend. Yet, Biddle quotes Facebook when they say these suggestions are “the very best.” It is clear Biddle is disturbed at the sight of the strangers on his newsfeed as well as the thought that these strangers are seeing him. While he thinks there will come a point in time when we will Friend strangers, the time hasn’t come and it’s not the norm. The norms of Facebook Friending, if a commonplace social network site during boyd’s study, would and should have been addressed.

Boyd’s analysis is still applicable today when we look at how people connect and create communities through their “friends” and affordances of social network sites. Kate Boehme writes Encourage Advocacy through Social Media on Business2Community. She addresses a connection formed through companies and people. This is a huge form of marketing today. Affordances and Friends of social media sites create ways of engaging with different groups and people. The Facebook “like” button encourages people to share content with their Friends. People can retweet communication on Twitter they find interesting and will be interesting to their Friends as well. People can share ideas and content with other people using Facebook tools. boyd’s article discuses how social network sties allow you to share content with your Friends. The Friending processes allows you to pick people first and then your interests.  Boehme would agree with boyd, writing the material you choose to retweet should be “chosen deliberately, to cater to the specific needs of your particular demographic.” You should also develop content that will appeal to the people looking at your page or profile. boyd believes that people show their relationships on social network sites and the public nature of these sites requires people to perform their relationships. This is true to this day. Even by showing support with a simple “like,” posting a pic or commenting on one, you can easily show your relationship and community with others.


One comment

  1. I really think the end of this post is particularly interesting in the context of another blog post made by a different student in this class. While norms on different SNS vary (i.e. following people you don’t know on Twitter and Tumblr are acceptable but on Facebook it’s not considered a norm), the common thread is that community is made via the sharing of content. This kind of sharing includes, as Jennifer writes, retweeting and the ‘like’ button on Facebook. After reading Thanks for the Retweet! ( I found it interesting that there were diverging ideas on the effectiveness of retweeting. Does it really help to build community or does it, as the latter blog post suggests, decrease the feeling of community/lose user engagement? Personally, I think the format of the retweet is important to consider. Sometimes Twitter will allow the display photos of both the retweeter & the original tweeter to show simultaneously, while other times Twitter chooses to only show the icon of the original poster. Both offer different contexts, so maybe that’s something else that might lead to a different analysis of the effectiveness of SNS affordances like retweeting or the sharing option on Facebook in building up SNS community.

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