My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Facebook is open

Facebook is open. I’ve already received friend requests from companies selling their wares by creating a Profile. I am also faced with more contexts that i can deal with. (Note: i’m not accepting friendships from folks that i know in the blogosphere until i figure out how to mix this with my role as an academic and TA. I am also not inviting folks so please don’t ask.)

Anyhow, i owe this issue a long analysis but i’m too tired right now to do anything but say le sigh. *Major* le sigh. I do not believe that social network sites are able to sustain lots of conflicting social contexts. Or, rather, i don’t believe that they can continue as a hang-out space. I know that Facebook will continue to grow but i believe that the core value of it will be lost for the sake of growth. MySpace is already struggling to cope with what happens when teens and parents/authorities are in the same place. At least most professors have had the curtesy to keep distance. Unfortunately, this opening will not simply allow college students without .edus and high schools students to join. It will also open the doors for every adult who is obsessed with youth – parents, authorities, pedophiles, commercial enterprises…

Le sigh.

(tx Liz for the image)

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14 comments to Facebook is open

  • I wonder if it’s an inevitability that social networking sites, to survive, must learn to cope with and manage the almost inevitable ‘conflicting social contexts’ you mention. Or is it just that throwing open the doors is the new way to jump the shark?

  • danah, I’m seconding David’s question: Is there a way to grow that doesn’t destroy that core value? Is it inevitable or is Facebook just not handling it well? (And if you know how to do it, wanna go into business together? :)

  • BHB

    Hopefully this will allow some of our structured identity portrayal to collapse across social boundaries. I dont care if my students, my kids, and my parents are all exposed to what I do on the weekends, in the classroom, etc. I think promoting this type of honesty/openness will lead to more understanding and acceptance of the complete identity of a person and hopefully for some more grace and acceptance of the human condition.
    I dont think the mishmash of social contexts is a problem, I think it is one of the best features!!

  • Rob

    Hi Danah,

    I just happened to come accross your 2004 article and enjoyed it thoroughly. The issues in that article are still present two years later and the frustration you are experiencing with Facebook opening up, I think, is just a result of the natural maturation of “social networking” sites.

    I think that Facebook knew very early on what it was comfortable with and what would make students feel comfortable with it – exclusivity. It was something cool and neat, connected to school life yet segregated from the world of professors and adults (like you said). It brought friends together and friends of friends… The security feature also was an attraction and still is in some respects.

    The problem with that structure is that MySpace exists and is very successful without that structure. I don’t like bringing discourse down to the realm of competition – but you and I know its reality.

    So what should change in “social networking” sites to bring them a renewed identity and to survive this new reality:

    1. Let people themselves decide if exclusivity should count within communities within a site.

    2. Add direction to a site but do not impose direction on people.

    3. Making friends and sharing interests is fun and creating business connections is useful but something else can surely be added to make the experience that much better and to help solidfy and bring more relevance to the type of connections people make.

    Also, I think a site should limit but not stifle; it should allow people to connect in relevant ways but not make it so obvious –

    these are just some thoughts – i probably haven’t given some issues enough thought.

    I would get disheartened, its just another stage – Search has and continues to go through many. After all, shouldn’t “social networking” sites mature with the people who were first using them?

    Rob

  • crzwdjk

    I had always thought that the success of Facebook was due in large part to the fact that it was restricted to only college students, and so was designed with college students in mind, and was useful to them. Having it limited to schools was useful, because it meant that you could look up people whom you see every day but don’t really know, for example. It’d probably work equally well in any other institutional type environment, such as high schools, and corporations. But opening it up to the whole world loses pretty much the one thing that made the facebook the facebook, and in doing so it becomes just another social network site, like myspace but without the abominable web design and without at many people.

  • David^2 – why does growth have to be about extending to everyone? Why does extending to new students each year not count as growth? Why not come up with new ways to focus on students-only?

    Do i think that any community site can grow to a truly global scale and still function? No. I think that context collision will always alienate some people.

  • I think it’s because for-profit entities (especially in this space) work on quantity, not quality.

    Differentiation by features is much harder than simply reducing cost-per-user by growing the denominator. I.e., adding more users with the same features makes money – adding more features while only realizing a small growth curve doesn’t.

    A paid-subscription model breaks this mold – but is that a survivable direction for controlled-context social networking sites? My gut says no.

  • I believe this opening is following up on the news that Facebook may be for sale. Opening up the registration system to inflate the population of the site to inflate the perceived value of the network. If this is the intent the move is counterproductive. The value in Facebook was having a sealed off exclusive community for those who are students. I’d just like to know who in the world suggested the idea.

  • if an all-access facebook will ruin its sacred purity, does this propose that a limit to growth exists in social networking communities?

    does exclusivity define place?

    do borders define contexts?

    are population levels, and one’s origins, related to the quality of life for a real urban or virtual cyberspace place?

  • “Community” is a group centered thing. “Social network” is a person centered thing. I can imagine a desirable natural segregation of “neighborhoods” in a social network balanced by various degrees of pseudo accidental mutual exposure and intermixing – similar to how this happens in cities. This doesn’t happen in a “community.” It all depends on how we design the system and the interface. So, what are we talking about?

  • Louisa

    Guys, what do people think about the option of paid-subscription models for social networks? I’d love to know what people’s opinions were? Pros and cons?

    Also, what are people’s opinions on limiting social networks to certain industries, retaining a highly level of exclusivity? A good option? Quality not quantity… But makes less money I guess…

  • make friends, not facebook.

  • jody

    I agree with BHB I’m actually very excited about context clash, esp. how it occurs on facebook’s newsfeed. Let me provide an example: I’m the type of social person that thrives in many diff. mutually exclusive social groups. ie in high school I might possess one persona/vocality within a preppy group and another one all together within an urban culture group. I was always interested in bringing my diff. groups of friends together to sort of “show everyone that they would actually get along well” but that sort of thing never really works like you imagine it. As a result, I was often put in situations where I would have to engage in say a conversation with the preps that subtley dissed urban culture or even worse the people in that group (my other friends) and in most cases I would agree or at least not openly disagree because announcing that kind of context clash openly, live and in the moment is an uncomfortable thing to do (esp. for a high schooler). Facebook on the other hand mediates these context clashes, so instead of having to stand up to my preppy friends and say, yeah I rap, and have them laugh expecting it to be a joke, I can simply post a video of me rapping and know that the context clash will eventually occur when they see the video, but that I won’t have to be there in that one awkward moment when they discover this other side of me that maybe doesnt fit the image of who theyd like me to be. Conversely, they see a more honest, full picture of who I really am, and perhaps (after a moments hesitation) are able accept this new image of me and thus we can be more honest with each other in person as a result. Moreover, because I don’t know when this personalized context clash will occur I proceed into real life social situations with a new confidence born from revealing myself to others, whether or not they’ve actually seen the conflicting artifacts I’ve offered up. Thus, I’ve opened up to everyone and no one at the same time, it’s both anonymous and highly personal confession (taking the positive from both aspects in my mind).

    This applies to the new adult population of facebook as well b/c, while I can limit certain context clashes with privacy features, in most cases I would rather know that context clashes will come eventually but without my knowledge and without that in the moment awkwardness. In this way I don’t mind, say, my mom seeing a crude comment I’ve left on a friend’s wall because as long as this crude side of me is mediated by the digital/temporal separation of facebook it lessens the offending awkwardness of the encounter and leaves my mother only discovering that perhaps, when not around her I possess a more vulgar vocality (ie getting caught cursing around my grandma is way worse then her discovering that I curse elsewhere– facebook allows a context clash somewhere in between those two, and I believe in a lot of cases it’s a desirable one). After all, at my core wouldn’t I like my mom to KNOW that this other side of me exists. Wouldnt that benefit our relationship, if only in a tacit sense.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant, just really interested by this stuff…. obviously, haha.

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