Monday, August 3, 2009

Social Networking Part 1: Facebook vs. Myspace

Ever wonder why people started using Facebook instead of MySpace? Perhaps you use both, but you probably favor one. Some recent research suggests that your use of Facebook or Myspace reflects your socio-economic class.

When Facebook started at Harvard in 2004, Myspace dominated the online social networking world (which was tiny compared to today, but growing quickly). Originally limited to just college students by requiring a valid university email address, Facebook held a reputation of exclusivity for the first couple of years. Myspace's open registration attracted all types, however, and it was the "in thing" to join for teenages by 2005. When Facebook opened up its registration so anyone could join in September 2006 an important transition occurred. It seemed every high school student was flocking to the new site, attracted by the opportunity to network with older, 'cooler' college students at universities they would soon be attending. It turns out, however, that not all teenagers made an exodus to Facebook, or if they were just joining social networking they did not necessarily choose Facebook over Myspace.

Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, tackles the question of how these two social networks developed. Danah's main discovery in her research, and the proposition she advances in this essay is this: the social networking sites of Facebook and Myspace reflect the socio-economic class divisions evident in real society. Therefore, as Danah explains in a recent speech, a teenager’s choice of a site depended heavily on what socio-economic class they were in. As she admits, this is a sticky and often muddled issue, but an important one to think about.

Fundamentally, the divide (albeit murky) between Facebook and Myspace reveals that humans will almost always connect with and seek out others like them. In our lives we tend to build the closest relationships with people who share our values, like the same books, listen to similar music, etc. Is this wrong? No, I don't think so. Is it worth thinking about? Of course, we already do it all the time. But, how and why you make friendships is an important question you should ask yourself. Online social networking has exploded as an outlet for relationship building, to the point where many of us will say (only half-jokingly), "We're not friends until its official on Facebook."

I plan to consider next how the phenomenon of online social networking is shaping our daily lives and defining the culture of the 21st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment