In her article “Friends, Friendsters, and Myspace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites,” author Danah Boyd provides us with a historical perspective on social media networking. More specifically, she questions whether social media friendships are the same as real life (offline) friendships. Boyd examines the websites Friendster and MySpace in determining how, why, and when, people choose to befriend someone on a social media site. As she writes on page one of her article, “While some participants believe that people should only indicate meaningful relationships, it is primarily non-participants who perpetuate the expectation that Friending is the same as listing one’s closest buddies.” She goes on to list several reasons why the process of Friending goes way past the boundaries of close friends – More friends makes you more popular, more cool, reveals who you really are, it’s a good way to see private profiles, fear of saying no, and simply because its easier to accept a friend request than to say “no.” Like most of my peers, I am sure, I have well over 1000 friends on Facebook, yet I consider only about 200 of them my actual friends with which I would not hesitate to strike up conversations and have relations with. The rest of my friends are just people I have met at one point or another, but with whom I never bothered building a relationship with. Although Boyd’s research is still very relevant today I believe her article would be somewhat different if she wrote it today. Social media has progressed tremendously throughout the last 6 years, and consumer behavior along with it. In the writing that follows I point out 3 areas that Boyd would have to include if she were to write this article today.
Firstly, I think that most people friend have so many friends on social media sites like Facebook simply in fear of missing out. Boyd does not stress this point in her article, but as social media has become more and more prevalent, so has this idea of “missing out.” Users spend hours each day monitoring their social landscape because they would feel behind if they didn’t. As this infographic shows, a staggering 40% of users would rather run a marathon, get a root canal, clean drains at the gym, or wait in line at the DMV rather than give up their social networking profiles and Friending abilities.
Next, I think the overall appeal of having a plethora of friends on social networking sites has gone down tremendously. Although social media is significantly more useful today than it was 6 years ago, the number of friends you have no longer plays a part in that practicality. No benefit comes from being spammed with information by people you barely consider your friends. A recent poll shows that when asked the question “Is it time to ‘clean out’ your Facebook friends,” over 81% of the participants answered yes, claiming that they haven’t seen or spoken to many of their Facebook friends in years. In the same article it is stated that on average Americans have only two confidents, down from three, 25 years ago. Are we perhaps spending considerable amount of time building large social networks of shallow connections at the expense of deepening a select few cherished relationships upon which you can really trust and rely? In 2006 social media was mainly just fun and nothing else to me. It was like a round-the-clock social gathering in my computer. Now, in 2012, it seems a lot more focused on strategy, marketing, and branding. This may not be a bad thing, but it is certainly an evolution that Boyd would mention if she were writing this piece today. According to a recent study, the perception of social media is quite different today than what it was even in 2010, and is actually more negative. Diana Abrams surveyed 500 participants asking, “what is the first thing you think of when you hear social media?” She compared this poll to the same exact poll she took in 2010, and compared the two in an infographic:
Last but not least, Boyd’s discourse would not be complete in 2012 without some mention of the “value” of friendship. By value, I mean not only the value of having online friends for users, but also the value of attracting more friends and followers for social media companies. Facebook, for instance, is working very hard to harvest more and more data from their users. The more Friends you have, the greater reach you have, therefore making you more valuable to Facebook, and granting you a higher “value.” In short, Friends are for making money. As the Economist article “The Value of Friendship” mentions, Facebook has an ambitious plan to map out all of the connections between people and the things that interest them. New apps come out every day, allowing users to watch movies, read news, and listen to music all without leaving the platform. The idea behind these apps is that people are able to share their activities and interests on the web with all their Facebook friends in a process called social syndication. This, along with heavily targeted advertising brings tremendous amounts of revenue to Facebook. The company makes it a priority to encourage users to have more and more friends. After all, they are in the social media business, and Friends make up their revenue stream!
Despite these recommended additions to her piece, Danah Boyd’s article provides one of the best accounts of early social media networks to this day. Her research is as relevant today as it was 6 years ago despite the massive changes social media has experienced. It is these types of accounts that keep us literate and critical with regards to social media, so it is crucial to update, rehash, and expand on them every year!
Adams, Diana. “Public Perception Of Social Media: 2010 vs. 2012 [Infographic].” Bit Rebels. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.bitrebels.com/social/public-perception-social-media/>.
“Fear of Missing Out Is Social Mediaâs Best Friend.” Infographic: Fear of Missing Out Is Social Media’s Best Friend. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.infographicsarchive.com/social-media/infographic-fear-of-missing-out-is-social-medias-best-friend/>.
“The Value of Friendship.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 04 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <http://www.economist.com/node/21546020>.