My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & 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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boyd’s law of social network sites

::giggle:: While I was off the grid, Cory Doctorow created a law of social network sites and named it after me:

boyd’s law: “Adding more users to a social network [site] increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.”

This comes from a brilliant column that he wrote for InformationWeek about how the Facebook communication technology (combined with their not-so-open platform strategy) resemble AOL’s old segregation/segmentation approach to users. (Remember the days when AOL users couldn’t email anyone who didn’t have an AOL account?) Embedded in this discussion is a concern for how social network sites are extremely socially awkward. My favorite quote: “It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system.”

Anyhow, I super appreciate the creation of “boyd’s law,” especially because I think that it applies to both social networks and social network sites. (I have to imagine that many folks are having a field day thinking about who all should and shouldn’t be invited to holiday parties right about now.)

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7 comments to boyd’s law of social network sites

  • Very cool. I imagine that a “law” is pretty high in the hierarchy of “things to have named after you.” It definitely beats having a new species of slug or a new type of bacteria named after you. It might even beat having an obscure and small asteroid named after you. It’s not as cool as having a newly discovered element or peace treaty named after you, though, but I’m sure that you understand why that hasn’t happened yet. 🙂

  • Cory’s “boyd’s Law” reference appears on the Concurring Opinions legal blog:
    http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/12/metcalfes_law_v.html

  • So remember when I gave the analogy for the queer community that… “just think — if you had slept with everyone in your PhD program… then you’ll understand what dating in 5% of the world is like…?”

    totally boyd’s law.

  • Very cool! Congrats on getting a law named after you.

  • Hi dana,

    Blogged about boyd’s law here:
    http://www.boston.com/business/blog/filter/2007/11/creepy_excowork.html
    It even made it into the *gasp* paper version of the Globe on Monday.

    Love. It.

    Your vacation sounds GREAT!

    Cheers,
    Maura

  • Our family has encountered similar problems in the so-called real world with reciprocating birthday party invitations. I imagine that similar problems existed back in the days of dance cards.

    The situation is exacerbated online because most social networking sites, despite the term networking, are usually flat, broadcast spaces. (Not surprising when you consider that Facebook started with an undergraduate user base: schools are themselves flat, superconductive social spaces.) We need a more complex social topology including venues and pigeonholes to accommodate intimacy. (viz intimacy gradients in A Pattern Language, etc.)

    At Handmeon, we are experimenting with the idea of not providing any notification of friend requests – you have to actively check for them – as a way of providing plausible deniability for non-reciprocation. But getting rid of an unwanted friend once you have adopted them strikes me as a far tougher problem. Having friend links expire in some way might help but clear out some dead wood, but doesn’t handle the burdock and cholla types. And it doesn’t address the fundamental fact that human social space just isn’t flat.

    One solution is to learn to stride remorselessly through life like a double-edged razor blade. (Not that I am claiming to have learned this art, mind you.)

    Personally, I think that we need to start constructing social networking sites in which the members can do their own urban design. This will become more an more important as the current generation of facebook and myspace user base moves (statistically and demographically) in the direction of the nest.

  • James Storrie

    I cited you in an undergrad paper about essentially the same subject, just a couple of weeks ago. Your work is very interesting! Thank you for doing it so well!