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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“Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?”

Last week, I gave my first talk at Microsoft since joining MSR. This talk was part of the annual Tech Fest where researchers from labs around the world come and share their work to the broader Microsoft community. For the most part, it’s like a large science fair. There are booths and demos and posters and swarms of people descending to ask questions of researchers. It was pretty trippy to be thrown into this mix after only being with the company for a month. I had the privilege of “demoing” (a.k.a. waving my hands and trying to explain what I do) to Bill Gates. There was great humor involved because I gave my “demo” immediately following one of my colleagues’ (Henry Cohn’s) brilliant explanation of optimizing the Gale-Berlekamp lightbulb game. (Think: pure math to pure ethnography in under 60 seconds.)

Anyhow, I wrote up the crib of my talk in case anyone outside of Microsoft might find it interesting:

“Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?”

This talk is intentionally not a research talk, but an applied talk. It’s a sampler plate of my work as it applies to developers, policy makers, community managers, product designers, and other folks who work inside companies like Microsoft. Enjoy!!

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15 comments to “Social Media is Here to Stay… Now What?”

  • Noce wrap-up of what you did so far – and the recommendations are very welcome. I certainly would appreciate that every company knew what was it’s degree and centrality distribution, its infectivity and diffusion threshold, the power-law coefficient of the contributions, the frontier-to-size ratio and the exponential assortativity index; however, not even Facebook gives any of these to the developpers of an application. If you can use your influence to encourage that, I’d be a very happy consultant. In the mean time, back to “Google and Facebook are both monopolies on the same market”.

  • I really enjoyed this, and I’m going to buckle down and try to get through the dissertation as well. I’m actually part of a team (in my 9-to-5 life) working on a survey related to how social media impact ethics in the workplace… if you’re interested, i’d love to share it with you when we’re done.

  • Thanks for posting this; I found it fascinating.

    I plan to do my Sociology Master’s thesis on the topic of online communities and social networks, so this is exactly the kind of thing I hope to apply a sociological lens to.

    I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

  • This is a strange sentence (from your talk):

    This was a critical disruption to the way in which technology was historically produced, one that rattled big companies, even those whose agile software development cycles couldn’t cope with including all consumers as active participants in their process.

    Instead of the word “couldn’t” did you perhaps mean to write “could”?

  • Lawrence — or she could have said “especially” instead of “even” and said “agile” sarcastically

    ;^)

  • Danah-
    I really thought this was a wonderful presentation. I did not see it, I just read it on your blog which came to my attention, it should be noted, via Twitter.

    I spend a lot of time doing similar presentations for business groups but, interestingly, for middle schools, high schools and universities. I took particular interest in section II of your talk, as I hit a lot of these same points in my talks. I’m sure you were referencing the Berkman study that is also mentioned in the terrific new book “Born Digital.” The takeaway for me is that so often we fight things that we fear (in this case predation) instead of the ACTUAL problem which, very often, is peer to peer harassment. This is not a condition specific to the internet. The condition seems to be a basic human one.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post. Social media IS here to stay and while Facebook may well go the way of Friendster, the methods of communication are not changing.

  • Lawrence – Isaac is right. There’s sarcasm in my tone there. Everyone’s obsessed with agile development and in including relevant actors in their process, but they tend not to include the disruptive crazy masses when they think about their process. Agile development is simply not that agile or inclusive in practice.

  • danah. Liked the presentation – especially the concluding thought and analysis of youth and twitter.

    However – for me it didn’t really crack what I think is the fundamental difference about social media and the real reason it is here to stay. For me this is simply the fact that content has become separated (or liberated) from its means of distribution and flowing from this the vast increase in stuff (often derided as nonsense)out there and, critically, the evolving processes of connectivity that converts this stuff into intelligence. It is why social media is not just an evolution of things that were there before (and also why social media isn’t the best descriptor – I prefer socialised information)

    The resulting impact, at the level of society, is the shift from institutions to process and the consequent threat this posses to said institutions. Note – these are not just media institutions – a bank, for example, at its heart is just an institutionalised mediator of information about money.

    The big mistake people make, not just in the traditional media but also in social media, is to assume that some institutionalised form of mediation will, or must emerge, if the proceses we call social media are to evolve. This is because institutionalised forms are all we have ever known. Hence also the confusion between the influence of blogs (institutional way of looking at things) and blogging (process way of looking at things).

    Have been commissioned to write a lengthy piece on this – http://tinyurl.com/bwxh3j – not quite a dissertation but at 8,000 words it feels it passes as such in the “info-bite” era. Shorter distillation I have put here – http://tinyurl.com/bcfc7p. Presented as slidshare here http://tinyurl.com/67kfwn

    Welcome your thoughts / challenges

  • jon

    Great talk. What was the reaction like from the Microsoft crowd? When I was last giving talks about social media two years ago, most people had little to no personal experience and were generally dismissive — but that was changing rapidly.

    Agile development is simply not that agile or inclusive in practice.

    Yeah really. The principles are great; the best agile groups are quite good at thinking from a customer perspective; but “inclusive”? Usually, not so much.

    jon

  • Steve

    Perhaps social media are indeed here to stay – but clearly grammar is on a shaky footing 🙂

  • An inspiring intervention, thanks for putting it online danah.

    I was wondering about other effects apart from the ‘network effects’ shaping social network sites. What about the ‘field effects’ of the myriad of fields of practice that cut across a site such as facebook (e.g. journalism, law, sociology, art, etc.)? For example, an art practitioner’s facebook actitivities are presumably strongly shaped by his or her specialist field, e.g. they would be careful not to anger influential senior practitioners for fear of damaging their career prospects. And what about ‘organisational effects’ and how employees (one would guess) take care not to be rude about their employers?

    How do the network effects in these sites interact with other types of effects (of fields, organisations, markets, action-sets, etc.)?

  • Jon – Folks at Microsoft were quite receptive but it’s always hard to tell with large audiences because only a fraction of them actually give you feedback and it’s always the positive feedback.

    John – I think of these in terms of distinct contexts with different social norms. There are indeed challenges to context collisions.

  • danah wrote:

    John – I think of these in terms of distinct contexts with different social norms. There are indeed challenges to context collisions.

    I’m not sure I understand. Would you mind giving an example or two?

  • Great analysis of the long-tail effects of social media on our social infrastructure. I like your discussion of age-specific uses of social networks as well as the network cluster effect that impacts so many social network sites but is very difficult to design for.

    ‘Act Three: Reshaping Publics’ is a well-articulated and forward-thinking look at the effects of social media on the public sphere. I especially like your comments on collapsing contexts and (de)locability. It will be interesting to see how Gen-Y (who have been using social media as a “hangout space”) will evolve with these changes and use social media in the professional world.