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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let’s define our terms: what is a “social networking technology”?

In writing Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, Nicole Ellison and I wrote many iterations of the definition of the term “social network sites” and why we chose to use this instead of “social networking sites.” For a good 20 versions, we had included this statement:

“Because the term ‘networking’ emphasizes relationship initiation, often with strangers, it can and has been expanded to refer to any site that allows people to communicate with people that they do not know, including dating sites, chatrooms, community sites, and bulletin boards.

This statement got edited out during the review phase because we were told that no one actually believed that “social networking sites” included all of these other things. The current debate surrounding the Economist’s debate on “social networking technologies” and education (my discussion of it is here) has shown otherwise. If you read the comments on my post and follow the blogs of others discussing the debate, you will find that there is unbelievable confusion about what constitutes “social networking.” [e.g., 1, 2, 3]

For their part, neither The Economist nor the respondents did little to define their terms. The Economist’s question concerns “social networking technologies” and their explanation opens up with “Given that MySpace and Facebook are ubiquitous…” and then goes on. From my POV, they implicitly equate “social networking technologies” with “MySpace and Facebook.” Yet, clearly, there’s all sorts of fuzziness about whether we’re talking about social network sites, social software, social media, collaborative software, or anything that enables any interaction with another human being.

Unfortunately, it makes the “debate” really confusing. When I posted my response, I focused on “social network sites” since that is what I took The Economist to mean by their equation. Not surprisingly given the confusion, I’ve been critiqued as being too narrow and not including wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, Google documents, Blackboard, etc.

I want to make something clear: I think that a lot of social technology is extremely valuable in the classroom, but that is not the question that I thought that The Economist was asking. Furthermore, I think that our failure to define our terms makes it damn near impossible to have a functional conversation about the actual issues. This is extremely frustrating. This is also why Nicole and I put so much effort into creating a workable definition of “social network sites.” We know that there’s confusion and we strongly believe that without a definition, we cannot actually have a meaningful conversation about actual substance. The ongoing use of “social networking” has been damaging to any productive conversation, both in the academy and in startup circles (who all want to be the next “social networking” app, even if there are no “Friends” involved).

So, here’s my question for all of you who use the term “social networking technologies” — what do you mean by that?

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37 comments to let’s define our terms: what is a “social networking technology”?

  • Social networking sites are (to my mind) correctly defined as those conscious facilitators of social networking, i.e. YouTube, MySpace etc. That is the answer you would get if you polled the general socialising population as opposed to the technorati. The raison d’etre of a wiki for example is not social networking even if it achieves its goal by utilising a social network. That is I think the crux of the difference.

  • I’ve had some very difficult times with the term “social networking technologies” myself. My research is in the production of identity through blogging software, so I personally tend to include blogs and community journals (a la Livejournal) in my definition of “social networking technologies”, alongside the Flickrs, Myspaces and Diggs of the online world. In short, any network-based tool that allows for community creation and content sharing (be it reuse of content or simply the ability to comment on others’ content) falls under that umbrella for me. I know my definition is a little broader than other researchers in the field, but I’m okay with that.

    I recently discovered there is an entirely different conception of ‘social networking technology’ in a field I’m marginally tied to, however. My partner (who wrote her PhD thesis on early modern English witches and prophets) is working with the Mellon-funded MONK project (http://www.monkproject.org), which endeavours to bring text visualization and data mining together. Their conception of “social networking technology” is that which provides networked visualization of relationships within a text, be that word usage, strings of dialog in a Shakespeare play, or character relationships. In essence, they’re interested in the ‘friending’ behaviour of words and texts. It’s a foreign interpretation of the term for me, but one that makes perfect sense from their perspective.

  • P.S. I meant Facebook not Youtube obviously!

    P.P.S A blog with no commenters/readers is still a blog; a social networking site with just one member is not.

  • Neil Kandalgaonkar

    A social networking technology has a model of its users, plus the graph of their relationships. This graph can be referred to (implicitly or explicitly) when using the technology.

    In other words:

    – “who has the most friends on this site?”

    – “show me the photos my friends have taken recently”.

    – “find someone who knows about catering parties, within 2 degrees of separation from any of my contacts

    – “which people do I email the most?”

    Mailing list managers don’t count. They don’t have a notion of the user apart from an email address. Something like Yahoo Groups doesn’t quite count either because messages are relayed according to group membership, not personal relationships. This does not include most Wikis, unless the wiki can mark certain sorts of links as “social” and it is feasible to crawl such links.

    What does count: everything you expect. Flickr, Friendster, Facebook, et al.

  • Dear Dana:

    Do you think is possible to build up a “Social Network site” using a type of blog platform?.

    There is a discussion about your article (where I was participating) at:

    http://eardevol.wordpress.com/2007/12/05/tecnologia-de-redes-sociales/

    As usual wih your blog, this is a very interesting topic!!

    Juan Felipe

  • jon

    I tend to use “social networking technologies” to mean “technologies that let people interact with their and others’ social networks”. So in addition to SNSs I would also include things like toolkits, IM/chat [which isn't a "site", and also as you point out in the paper fails on point 3 of your definition: there's no way to inspect other users' social networks] and non-webbased technologies like analyzing organizations’ or communities’ social networks (via automated email analysis or questionnaires).

    At least I try to use the term that way. In practice, I probably do blur it a lot with the more general field of social computing. I’ll try to be more careful :-)

    I certainly do agree that the lack of an agreed-upon definition in the Economist debate is leading to a lot of discussion that — using their preferred terminology — can best be described as “woolly thinking”.

  • Bonjour danah:
    I am most interested in the follow-up of this discussion. I started to work on the translation into French of your article “Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?” and of course I bumped into the issue of using “réseau social” (already widely used in French but improperly too).

  • Bonjour danah:
    I am most interested in the follow-up of this discussion. I started to work on the translation into French of your article “Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?” and of course I bumped into the issue of using “réseau social” (already widely used in French but improperly too).

  • Thanks for this dialogue and your other discussion of social networking technologies. I have a few comments but no real answers. My first observation is that the word network is a noun and a verb (in English anyway) and that contributes to the confusion I think (I have noticed this in the past with the term specification (act/output) in systems development). Also technology is another abused word – I use it to include cultural aspects, customs, etc. but it is often used as a ‘hard’ thing.
    Rather than define social networking technology, I thought of an example – RSS. There’s no agreement on the second and third words of the acronym but we sort of know what it is. It is very helpful in connecting people to each other and digital resources but does not belong to a commercial entity. It’s a simple and powerful technology but it can be difficult for people to know how to use it (unless they have seen the Commoncraft video).

  • First of all, thanks to you danah for starting such an interesting debate (and all for participating).

    In my opinion, we should start by making a distinction between social networking sites and social networking technologies. The latter, I would suggest, is a much broader term which can encompass many (online) technologies facilitating social networks. Social networks I take to be a very broad concept and really more of an analytical perspective than a specific constellation (e.g. community, work group, neighbourhood etc.):

    “Social networks are built on the foundation of actors who are connected or tied by the maintenance of one or more relations. The set of ties among actors describes a social network. The pattern of actors, relations and ties reveals structures of relational exchange, e.g., from and to whom information flows, positions of individuals within the network (e.g., who is most central) and how resources are distributed and circulate across the network as a whole.” (Haythorntwaite, 2007, p. 126*)

    In this way relations can form around friendship, but equally a ‘social network’ could be co-workers in a project exchanging resources. In this sense a social networking technology could be many different technologies. It could for instance be google docs mediating the work of various social networks. For the sake of clarity, we could further say that by social networking technologies we mean web-based/online technologies.

    For social networking sites, I think that you, danah, and Nicole have made a great ‘minimum’ definition of a social networking site:

    “We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.”

    I really find this to be a very good minimum or core description – it works for MySpace, but equally for del.icio.us (I would say).

    However, I think you – when discussing social networking sites and educational value in a previous post – go beyond the core of the definition. While ‘socialising’ and sharing resources to boost popularity or support socialisation processes might be the main function of many social networking sites to many young people, the definition above is actually more open (seen from my perspective).

    Connections might form around strong ties (already known people) and be about friendship. But connections, I would argue, could equally be built around shared or overlapping interests. The term just suggests ‘a connection’, but does not itself define the nature of the connection. Neither does it really say anything about what is possibly shared or communicated between the connections or for what purpose – this could, as you also point out, equally be educational links, documents etc. So, while the traversable lists might be friends it might also be people sharing interests.

    So, when stating that social networking sites are primarily about ‘socialising’ and ‘friends’ list’, I think you’re actually working yourself a bit away from the core definition and talking about how SNS are often used in practice. My point would be that the traversable list does not necessarily have to be ‘friends’ and the purpose not necessarily concerned only with ‘socialising’ (though one cannot and should not leave this out). In this way, I feel the core definition could equally open to employing ‘social networking site’ features to enhance the sharing of material, bookmarks, slides (or whatever), as you also hint at in this post (though sharing is not actually part of the initial definition you made).

    In relation to this I’m thinking if the definition is lacking something around ‘sharing or communicating’. As you write, some have critiqued you for not mentioning a range of other ‘social software’ tools, and I am wondering if this is because social networking sites always incorporate other functionalities than described in the definition. Are there actually sites where the only thing people can do is maintain profiles, connect to others and traverse list of other’s connections. While, I really think it is a good definition, I am also wondering if a site could meaningfully be a social networking site if having only the features from the definition?

    Anyways – thanks for an interesting post (as always)!

    *Haythornthwaite, C. (2007). Social networks and online community. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, U. Reips & T. Postmes (Eds.), Oxford handbook of internet psychology (pp. 121-136): Oxford University Press.

  • danah,

    Let me first just quickly say thanks for being an important voice in my own learning about all of this. Over the years, you’ve pushed my thinking in some important directions, and this conversation is no exception. Much appreciated.

    Ewan and I have gone back and forth on our blogs regarding the semantics of all of this, and obviously this thread adds to that. I do think there is a big distinction between social networking sites and social tools, especially using a classroom lens, and as I said to Ewan, I think the pedagogies around the latter are more relevant and important. That may be because I’ve been swimming in this sea for about seven years now and didn’t have the “benefit” of the pre-packaged structure that Facebook and MySpace and Ning sites offer to those who are beginning to create social connections whether they are young or old. But there is a “network literacy” (as opposed to a social literacy?) of sorts that is better taught, I think, through the “small pieces” approach, one that in the end prepares kids more completely for navigating and leveraging these tools and connection for more than just socialization.

    Thanks for continuing the conversation

  • john

    Social networking as it develops will continue to invade all parts of our life. We now have social networks that shares your music playlist with your friends (http://last.fm), one where ur friends’ create audio messages to wake you up ( http://sleep.fm ) and of course http://www.Facebook.com which encompasses pretty much everything about you.

    All of these networks probably will just fold into one, where your social graph will become your life journal.

  • danah:

    I don’t use the term “social networking technologies” myself: I prefer using the term “social network(ing) site” (SNS). A “technology” has a very broad scope: social networks can be established through phones, through chat services, and so on. For purposes of research, I limited my use to the term “site:” that is to say, a website that simulates social interactions, but with real effects and consequences. It is a collection of signs (see Roland Barthes)

    The computer, on the other hand, is the social networking technology that makes the SNS possible. Facebook, for example, is not a social networking technology (SNT): it is the SNS made possible and accessed through the tool that is the SNT. Instrumentality is not laid upon the site, but the technology.

  • Ruth

    Social networking can be as simple as listening to NPR. That is how I found out about the network to send phone card credits to Kenya. Thank you Danah for being out there, and working so hard for all of us. RE: social networking…I do not have a presence online other than my email, but you have gotten through to me anyway. I had to use google to find Pyramid of Peace…but I found them, and the people in Lithuania. The grassroots network appealed to me- I have been trapped and discouraged by the bureaucracies of all organizations, and by embezzlement of funds that occur at all levels of corporate and non-profit organizations, but I continue to hope – this seemed genuine to me…

    I think NPR should take up your article nationally. The problem that I face on a daily basis is helplessness in the face of all the misery. The idea that I can help someone get food shelter or medicine half way around the world makes me feel like I am connected in some way. I don’t have the time to maintain an identity in all the mysterious (to me) online communities, so I listen to the radio. I will quote another person whose name I have since forgotten – that I heard on NPR in 1981. She said that the most important quality that one needs in modern life is the ability to edit, and that has become more apt as time has run on…again, thank you. I donated, and I recieved an email from the people at ms@ms.lt, and I feel a little more connected, hopefully the money will help someone else. Thank you again for your brilliance, and your efforts. Peace, Ruth

  • Michael

    Yes, I believe the definition is too narrow. I feel that social network(ing) technologies exist beyond reestablishing strong tie connections and are (1) as much about sharing as about the connection itself (2) and are used as social network initiation and establishing weak ties as much as the visualization of strong tie conenctions.

    I also believe the technologies that facilitate social networks are broader. These facilitating infrastructural technologies could include specific radio programs, online blogs, print magazines if they facilitate sharing/connections to be made.

    Michael

  • I believe social networking technologies (beyond SNS – the web ‘sites’) are those who actually use the relationship graph (explicit or implicit) to achieve their goals (which could be their own and/or their user’s).

    Intuitively I beleive they would expose some characteristics of ‘Stag Hunt’ (game theory, see http://www.gametheory.net/dictionary/Games/StagHunt.html), where the payoff of adopting the technology is a function of others adopting the technology too.

    Joining LinkedIn/Facebook because that’s where most of my colleagues/friends are, folks walking around with Zunes looking for someone/anyone else to share a song with, ubiquitous SMS usage in most of the world, are all scenes of users and social networking technologies.

    Maybe using this litmus test means a pure ‘blog’ or a ‘wiki’ can be used as SN technologoes as long as people ebnabel comments & trackbacks from other blogs, sign their edits and comments in thew wiki, or the wiki has a ‘discussion’ page, etc.

    My .02

  • What do I mean by “social networking technologies”?

    Generically: A social network is an array of individuals or organizations who have a common interest, and are tied together in some way. The “technology” component provides the ties.

    My “plain language” definition: A social networking technology is a tool that interconnects individuals who have common interests.

    Of course, terms are defined not by their roots, or by what I alone think, but by actual usage in society. A quick Google search turned up these uses:

    – “Professional recruiters have started hunting for job candidates using social networking technology — like the kind found on sites such as Linkedin…”

    – “The third generation of social-networking technology has hit the Web, and it’s about content as much as contacts.”

    – “[Social] networking technology gives companies a new set of tools for recruiting and customer service–but privacy questions remain…”

    – “Although advances in social networking technologies allow for new and perhaps more efficient means of learning and communicating, they also pose some…”

    No wonder the discussion has become a bit confused! The only commonality that pops out (I read many more than I typed here) is that “technology” seems to usually mean “web technology,” and not postage stamps or cafes. In any event, attitudes trump tools in education, and what students actually do trumps “educational methods”.

    Curious Ray

  • jim

    “Social networking technologies” is probably too broad; “social networking sites” probably too narrow.

    Define a “technology assisted social network” as a set of enduring identities (possibly distinct from RL identities) together with mutually accepted enduring relationships between those identities, both of these (the identity and relationships) maintained by and accessed through the cloud. “Friend” is a possible relationship: LJ, Facebook etc. But other relationships are possible, too. I think I’d regard Second Life as a social network.

    Most blogs, say, aren’t, because the relationship between blogger and commenter is not mutually accepted. I can thrust myself on you as a commenter without your prior consent. Nor is a blog commenter’s identity enduringly maintained by the cloud: e.g.”drive-by comments”. Similarly, I can join a listserv without the existing members permission (or even knowledge).

    Collaborative software doesn’t maintain enduring identities or relationships. They last just for the collaborative session.

    I think the cloud is important. Which is why I’m hesitant to require the notion of a site.

  • Kevin Cantu

    Common English. There websites whose use revolves around interactive social networks. There are technologies that can be used to facilitate social networks. So nearly anything that can be used by two or more people is a social networking technology.

    Like the telephone.

  • On this blog, many have swung the topic from social networking technology to the closely related concept of social networking sites/services (SNS). Regarding SNS, Wikipedia is very helpful:

    “A social network service focuses on the building and verifying of online social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others, and which necessitates the use of software.

    “Most services are primarily web based and provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on.

    “The main types of social networking services are those which contain directories of some categories (such as former classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages), and recommender systems linked to trust. Popular methods now combine many of these, with MySpace, Bebo and Facebook being the most widely used in the anglosphere, Hi5 in parts of Europe, Google’s Orkut in Brazil, and Friendster being the most widely used in Asia.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_network_service

    Wikipedia does not appear to have an article about social networking technologies (SNT?) per se.

    In any event, it is interesting that the Economist’s topic was actually offered in two forms, one “up front” that is highly general and stated as a question (“Social Networking: does it bring positive change to education?”) and the other stated as a proposition (“Social networking technologies will bring large [positive] changes to educational methods, in and out of the classroom”). The second (the one we have been discussing) is poorly written, but perhaps the first can inform our interpretation of it, along with the knowledge that the readership of the Economist seems much more generalistic (less specifically technical) than the readership of this blog. It would seem that the intent of the Economist is to discuss this topic in general terms, and that a too-tight, too-technical definition of “social networking technologies” takes us a bit off track.

    Curious Ray

  • jim

    Ray’s quote from wikipedia, “those which contain directories of some categories (such as former classmates)”, brings up an interesting edge case.

    Friends Reunited (the US version is Classmates, I think) fits my definition above. The identities are abstractions from RL identities; the relationship, having attended the same school at the same time. The identities and relationships are maintained and accessed through FR.

    But communication about that relationship is not primarily mediated by FR. Vanda saw my name on FR and first contacted me through it, but after that we exchanged email addresses. That’s the typical pattern for FR as far as I can see.

    In contrast in, say, Librarything, where the identities are the libraries one possesses and the relationships library overlaps or shared book collecting interests, communication regarding these relationships is largely mediated by Librarything itself.

    Do we regard FR as a social network? If not, then we need to narrow our definition to require communication mediation as well as identities and relationships.

  • Michael

    Interesting article regarding social networks published on January 20th
    ‘Social Networks, from the 80s to the 00s’
    http://gigaom.com/2008/01/20/social-networks-from-the-80s-to-the-00s/

  • Jon

    The different interpretations and ellisions we see here illustrate how badly we need this discussion. For example, Ray’s SNS conflates sites and services [as does Nicole and danah's definition]; I think there’s potentially an interesting distinction between the site (a location or collection of locations in a virtual space) and the service (a web-accessible provider of data or functionality) — OpenSocial perhaps an as an example of a service that’s not a site, and sites without any programming interface being examples of sites that aren’t services. Sometimes it doesn’t matter; especially when thinking about things like data protection, sometimes it matters a lot.

    Here’s something that seems to me like a good example of how social networking technologies (as I defined them) can combine to create a social network site (using danah and Nicole’s definition). The software powering* the Economist’s debate fails two of the three prongs of their test; it does however provide a profile page. So suppose a bunch of the people involved adopted the convention that they’d add a comment with one or more links [or some other pointer, perhaps a googlable phrase] to sites where they expose their social network: friends lists, CVs or Google Scholar or Citeseer references with links to co-authors, blogrolls if that’s how they use them, etc.

    I think it’s a meaningful distinction. A social-network-enabled version of the Economist debate would potentially be significantly different. From the comments on their site and the wider discussion in the blogosphere, it’s pretty clear that there is a social network involved here: a lot of these people know each other and their work. This makes it very difficult for outsiders with no visibility for it to understand the debate, especially the subtexts and history, and participate meaningfully. danah’s post in the other thread that she’s usually a fan of Ewan helped me understand the discussion a lot better.

    Thoughts about that?

  • Jon

    The different interpretations and ellisions we see here illustrate how badly we need this discussion. For example, Ray’s SNS conflates sites and services [as does Nicole and danah's definition]; I think there’s potentially an interesting distinction between the site (a location or collection of locations in a virtual space) and the service (a web-accessible provider of data or functionality) — OpenSocial perhaps an as an example of a service that’s not a site, and sites without any programming interface being examples of sites that aren’t services. Sometimes it doesn’t matter; especially when thinking about things like data protection, sometimes it matters a lot.

    Here’s something that seems to me like a good example of how social networking technologies (as I defined them) can combine to create a social network site (using danah and Nicole’s definition). The software powering* the Economist’s debate fails two of the three prongs of their test; it does however provide a profile page. So suppose a bunch of the people involved adopted the convention that they’d add a comment with one or more links [or some other pointer, perhaps a googlable phrase] to sites where they expose their social network: friends lists, CVs or Google Scholar or Citeseer references with links to co-authors, blogrolls if that’s how they use them, etc.

    I think it’s a meaningful distinction. A social-network-enabled version of the Economist debate would potentially be significantly different. From the comments on their site and the wider discussion in the blogosphere, it’s pretty clear that there is a social network involved here: a lot of these people know each other and their work. This makes it very difficult for outsiders with no visibility for it to understand the debate, especially the subtexts and history, and participate meaningfully. danah’s post in the other thread that she’s usually a fan of Ewan helped me understand the discussion a lot better.

    Thoughts about that?

  • Jon raises an interesting point – those in the debate would understand it in different way than an outsider – which will make me add a comment to my previous litmus test. I mentioned ‘stag hunt’ characteristics for social networking technologies.

    But my revision is that SNTs are technologies whose value exposes stag hunt characteristics, *for people who may end up in the same graph/network*.

    Which feels right on one level but makes me feel uncomfie as Digg, del.icio.us (for example) would not fit the definition – as they just rely on *many people* to be of value not *social networks* with contact graphs.

  • When I wrote my dissertation on online social networking a few years back (has it been that long!), I used this definition. Social networking software has the following components:

    1. Identity | Your identity is shown by a screenname, which remains persistent through time. There are incentives not to change this, like having your list of friends stored on the server and only accessible through your screenname. This acts as a pressure to not change identity. Having a persistent identity is more important than having one brought in from the physical world.
    2. Presence | Presence is awareness of sharing the same space, and this is implemented as seeing when your friends are online, or busy.
    3. Relationships | The ability to add people as buddies. From that moment, their presence is visible on your screen. This is a relationship; you’re allowed them to have an effect on your environment.
    4. Conversations | Conversations are implemented as synchronous messaging. There’s a difference between messaging and conversations. Messaging is just an exchange of text with no obligation, but conversations have their own presence and want to be continued. Contrast this with email which often is just messaging, and conversations die easily.
    5. Groups | The ability to affiliate based upon a common interest or demographic. Although you can have group chats, the group is transient. People have more loyalty to a group when there’s some kind of joining step, when they’ve made some investment in it. Entering a window just doesn’t do that, and there’s no property of the group that exists outside the individual user’s accounts.
    6. Reputation | Reputation is used more in systems which allow meeting new individuals. Any user may “warn” any other user. A user’s total “warn” level (a figure up to 100) is shown to everyone they communicate with. Unfortunately, it’s not a trustworthy reputation system, and reputation is notoriously difficult — but humans are great at dealing with it themselves, given certain affordances: persistence identities, and being able to discuss those identities with other people.
    7. Sharing | People like to share. Sharing is often as simple as giving a friend a link or photograph to follow. These act as small transactions that build genuine group feeling.

    I can’t take the credit for this definition: I found it online in a blog post by S. Butterfield in 2003 at http://www.sylloge.com/personal/2003_03_01_s.html#91273866. The definition is a bit outdated now, but it can serve as a starting point.

    Dave

  • “social networking technology” is anything designed to get me to reveal details about my preferences in life via my communication with “others” in such a way that my participation in the technology allows the designer to monetize it

    it is ALWAYS for the benefit of the designer or owner first, and only by accident later, of benefit for the user

    see “ploy”, “scam”, “ruse” in your local dictionary

  • “social networking technology” is anything designed to get me to reveal details about my preferences in life via my communication with “others” in such a way that my participation in the technology allows the designer to monetize it

    it is ALWAYS for the benefit of the designer or owner first, and only by accident later, of benefit for the user

    see “ploy”, “scam”, “ruse” in your local dictionary

  • I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I think we should not use the term social networking but rather student or educational networking for what we’re doing in schools.

    Social is a misnomer and also harms the proposal of using the tools in the first place because it reinforces the thought that these tools are just a mini playground for teenagers.

  • This is an incredibly important post and discussion. There are distinct differences in the terms “social networks,” “social network sites” and “social networking sites.”

    John Dodds is correct in his first post about the gap between what the general public understands and what the technorati mean.

    And it is unfortunate that this was edited out of the article that Danah referenced:

    “Because the term ‘networking’ emphasizes relationship initiation, often with strangers, it can and has been expanded to refer to any site that allows people to communicate with people that they do not know, including dating sites, chatrooms, community sites, and bulletin boards.”

    I will leave it to Danah, Nicole and others to provide a workable solution to this rhetorical problem. I can tell that there will be continual confusion about the terms because they employ the same words, and I say this as a rhetorician with a Ph.D. in English and as a journalist who communicates with the public.

    Keep in mind that I was invited to participate in the Economist debates because of my investigative pieces on Facebook and MySpace and my academic presentations. For instance, I and others had a top paper at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication on coverage of Facebook in metro and student newspapers, using framing metholodologies. These are social network sites. That is my speciality. My presentations on these sites focused on corporate branding and infiltration into academe of media conglomerates purchasing these sites. For instance, Facebook had a distinct brand formerly that was grounded in physical place–a particular campus. I was quoted about that in USA Today and other national media, in as much as I felt that the revamped site was trying to compete with MySpace by blurring brands–a strategy that paid off in revenue at the expense of facilitating interpersonal contact in physical space. I critiqued MoSoSo sites because of concerns about stalking as the affinity groups assembled around them were about hookups, initially at least, and my students, many of them Women’s Studies majors, were concerned about that.

    Keep in mind as well that the term “facebook” refers to an admissions document in the paper era so that strangers in residence halls or academic cohorts could learn from each other. So in a sense, these sites alluded to a publication whose purpose further confuses the issue here, because one can revise Danah and Nicole’s deleted definition to describe those booklets:

    “Because facebooks in residence halls emphasize relationship initiation, often with strangers, it refers to a publication that allows students to communicate with people in their cohort whom they do not know.”

    As for me, remember that I anticipated that my invitation to participate in the Economist debate also involved my work in social network sites that are the focus of my research. Some, but not all, of my remarks in the opening pertained to social network sites; more, but not all, in my rebuttal pertained to social networks, social network sites, and social networking sites. My summation will pertain to all three.

    But you cannot ask the general audience to make academic distinctions with these terms, especially since Facebook and MySpace and their popularity have by convention and media use appropriated all those terms, which again involves my research and how media and marketing are overshadowing the excellent work of researchers, including Danah and Nicole.

    I had the same issue with magazine journalism, distinct from newspaper journalism. The disciplines varied from each other in substantive ways but the terminologies were similar, though each had diverse meaning. Example: A feature story in a newspaper is something apart from hard news, perhaps a lifestyle story. A feature in magazine is a manuscript between 1000-2000 words. An article in newspaper lingo can mean anything. In magazine, it’s 2000-words plus that focuses in depth on an issue. I could go on with about 101 other terms. Finally I wrote a text with a glossary to distinguish terms. We need the same thing here.

    Others commenting above have more expertise than I in how to accomplish a workable distinction in terms. As a practical matter, we cannot use the same words for three different meanings.

    In closing, all of this concerrs my main objection with how technology is being taught on campus. We’re emphasizing presentation and the social of social networking rather than the network and its nature, which is more scientific and appropriate at Iowa State University, an institution of science, by the way. Our official name is Iowa State University of Science and Technology. If we are ever to use these technologies effectively in the classroom, we must rely less on engagement and more on serious study, which comes with its own set of problems complicated again by corporate convention and revenue generation at the expense of salary, facilities and tuition.

  • Thanks for this topic Danah. I also have witnessed this confusion and think it is important to define our terms. As a general rule, I use the term “social media” to encompass the broad range of technologies that provide a feedback loop. This includes blogs, collaborative publishing sites, forums, and social networking sites. I view social networking sites as a subset of social media. They are different because they have different requirements than other types of social media. For example, social networking sites require a profiling or identity management system. They also focus on “me” the user–in fact the draw to social networking sites is “me,” whereas the draw to say forums or blogs is usually a specific topic or conversation. Finally, the intent is different. I use social networking sites to connect with people I know, and occasionally meet some new people. With forums, blogs, wikis, etc., my intent is to learn something new or to contribute information.

  • Jon

    I would classify a lot of message boards as social network sites: the connections are typically there in the threads [textually and temporally], and can be viewed and traversed if you take the time to observe and learn the conventions. Ditto blogs, where you also have a blogroll that can represent the social network as well as the information network. By contrast del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and wikis in general feel to me more in the category of “information networking technologies” although of course you could use them to encode a social network.

    Returning to Vicki’s point above, I agree that a different name is appropriate for what you do in schools. Whatever the right term is, these educationally-focused networks potentially include functionality like file sharing, communication (chat and discussion forums), information networking technologies (del.icio.us), and social networking technologies (profiles, connections). Some of the important connections here include “classmate”, “teacher/student”, “past teacher/student”, “collaborator” (on a project), and so on.

  • Jon

    Here’s an attempt at a more precise definition for social networking technologies that generalizes danah and Nicole’s definition for SNS while still I think keeping the spirit, and (other than terminology) appears consistent and Haythorntwaite’s above. I’m officially throwing in the towel on network vs. networking in this case; at this point, I don’t think there’s any way to make that a useful distinction.

    social network technologies aka social networking technologies: online or offline technologies that relate to (1) public or semi-public profiles (2) articulating the connections between actors (users, people, organizations) and (3) viewing and traversing the lists of connections for self and others

    On #2, I changed things slightly from their “(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection” because I think it’s important to handle the case where it is not the users themselves articulating the list of connections — They Rule clearly [at least to me :-)] should fall under the ‘social network technologies’ umbrella, even though the people themselves didn’t enter the information.

    Thoughts on that?

  • While definitions are important, they’re often not as important as we think. This is something we academics do a lot – spend all our time arguing about definitions (I’ve seen it a lot in the debate on learning objects and virtual learning environments). Wittgenstein argued that there is no clear definition of a ‘game’ but more importantly, that this doesn’t matter as we work with exemplars and archetypes in communication. I’ve tried to expand on this more here: http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2008/01/social-networks.html

  • Carla

    What if there was a twist on the social network site scene? What if there was value to being on these type of websites? Well I have discovered a new one and they are calling it the next generation of MySpace. It’s called Yuwie. Yuwie is the hottest next social network site that was launched back in July of 2007. What makes this site so unique is that Yuwie actually pays it users to do all the things that they already do on MySpace and Facebook. Here is an article that was published on prweb.com back in December.

    From http://www.prweb.com
    Norman, Okla. December 3, 2007

    Yuwie.com, one of the Internet�s newest social networking sites, today announced the details behind their innovative and highly successful new online business model. �MySpace and Facebook have already proven how business can make money from the efforts of end-users,� said Korry Rogers, founder and CEO of Yuwie. �Yuwie is proving that both businesses and end-users can finally share the $100 million per month advertising revenue that floods into the social networking market today.�Rogers explains that Yuwie�s business model is based upon two core tenants:

    1) End-user participation is free � no sign-up fees or subscription fees are required.

    2) Yuwie currently distributes well over half of the site�s advertising revenue back to participating end-users.

    Not only are Yuwie�s end-users paid for the traffic generated for their own personal page, but also for the traffic generated by friends they refer to the site, in addition to traffic generated from their friends� subsequent referrals (for up to ten (10) layers or generations of personal referrals). “The revenue potential for end-users is striking and very exciting once you start to run the numbers;� explained Rogers. “If someone only refers three of their friends, who refer three of their friends through ten levels, that one person will ultimately collect a percentage of advertising revenues from about 88,000 end-users, which can translate to about $8,800 per month for that person � every month.”So far, end-users� response to Yuwie�s new business model has completely shattered initial projections by attracting 300,000 registered members to Yuwie�s brand of social networking � in just five (5) months. Moreover, Yuwie�s growing page views, which currently total 1,800,000 per day, have catapulted the website�s global ranking from below the top 100,000 list, to one of the top 2,500 websites in the world. About Yuwie.com Yuwie (www.yuwie.com) is the world�s first social networking site that truly allows end-users to collect a percentage of online advertising revenues generated from the website. By integrating end-user personalization, social networking tools, and monthly income potential for end-users, Yuwie appears poised to usher in the next-generation of online business.

    Posted: 1/19/2008 at 23:58

    So you see there can be some value to social nework sites!!

  • Just to let you know that the Becta commissioned report Young People and Social Networking Services is now available online & to download in various formats. It looks are the issue of definition and also different social networking service platforms. I also had many battles ensuring that your name wasn’t capitalized by proof readers, which I hope you’ll appreciate ;)
    http://www.digizen.org/socialnetworking/
    Best, Josie

  • I’m late to the discussion but appreciate the point still. The language of social media remains largely undefined and without agreement. Danah, have you continued to work towards a unified vocabulary?

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