Category Archives: yasns

The Term “Social Network(ing) Sites”

Early in my research of Friendster, there was a great deal of discussion by sociologists about the name of these sites. Originally, the press was using the term “social networks” to describe them; this outraged the sociologists who ranted on and on about how these were not actually social networks. Since MySpace exploded, the media has chosen a new term “social networking sites.” Needless to say, this didn’t fare any better in the eyes of sociologists and i got critiqued at a social network conference for using this term. Likewise, on the mailing lists, there has been plenty of grumbling. Although i’m usually the first to defend whatever the mainstream term is, i have to agree with the sociologist’s critique.

“Social networks” are the network of relationships between individuals in society. Social scientists of all stripes study the social networks of people (and corporations, nation-states, animals, etc.). “Social networking” is a term that makes most social scientists cringe. As a verb, it is meant to signal the active process of seeking to build one’s social network. Not surprisingly, every business school goes out of its way to teach social networking to their students based on some hypotheses about how different relationship structures will help people at work. This active schmoozing makes my skin crawl because there’s nothing genuine about it.

By employing the term “social networking sites,” the media is doing a disservice to most people who participate on these sites. The connotation, especially to non-participants, is that people are running around these sites meeting strangers (… who are predators). EEK! We don’t want to think of our teens as networking with unknowns. (Moral panic ensues.) The verb form gives off a problematic impression and it obfuscates what people actually do on these sites. Most folks hang out with their friends. They go there to model their social network, not to engaging in social networking. (LinkedIn and other professional sites are different.)

While parents, authorities, and the media are using the term “social networking site,” it’s not what i’m hearing from teens. They don’t talk about the sites as a collection – they talk about MySpace and/or Facebook. The exception is when they reference the moral panic or parental concern. For example, “My parents don’t think that social networking sites are safe.” When they are talking about what they do, where they go, they use the brand names. Given that teens are not using the term except in reference to their parents, i’m going to stick with “social network sites” in an attempt to properly convey what is actually going on. I encourage others to do the same.

I realize that it’s too late to re-frame this term in public discourse but i also think that the issue needs to be highlighted. All too often we forget how our terms stem from and magnify our fears, subtly and unconsciously. Our terms carry politics with them.

Facebook’s “Privacy Trainwreck”: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama

Last night, i asked will Facebook learn from its mistake? In the first paragraph, i alluded to a “privacy trainwreck” and then went on to briefly highlight the political actions that were taking place. I never returned to why i labeled it that way and in my coarseness, i failed to properly convey what i meant by this.

When i sat down to explain the significance of the “privacy trainwreck,” a full-length essay came out. Rather than make you read this essay in blog form (or via your RSS reader), i partitioned it off to a printable webpage.

Facebook’s “Privacy Trainwreck”: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama

The key points that i make in this essay are:

  • Privacy is an experience that people have, not a state of data.
  • The ickyness that people feel when they panic about privacy comes from the experience of exposure or invasion.
  • We’ve experienced the exposure hiccup before with Cobot. When are we going to learn?
  • Invasion changes social reality and there is a cognitive cap to being able to handle it.
  • Does invasion potentially result in a weakening of meaningful social ties?
  • Facebook lost its innocence this week.

Please enjoy this essay and forward it on to both technology folks and Facebook participants. I would like to hear feedback!

will facebook learn from its mistake?

As Fred Stutzman noted, Facebook Broke Its Culture this week. In an attempt to provide something that would make people’s lives easier, they created a privacy trainwreck. Earlier this week, they unleashed a feature that notified all of your “friends” of EVERY update that you make. Live. Feed style. Users panicked! Sure, anyone could’ve written a script to do that. Sure, it’s data that’s already there. But not in aggregate. The problem is that sometimes people don’t want information to be easier to access.

Not all “friends” are friends. Sometimes, you say yes to save face but you count on those people not actually being stalkers. They don’t really watch your page with any focus so most of what you put up goes by unnoticed. But not if all of your “friends” are notified of your every move.

As the chaos mounted, people started protesting. Nearly 700,000 joined a “Students Against Facebook News Feed” group. Others discussed boycotting the service or deleting their accounts.

Apparently, Facebook is paying attention to this uproar. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to revert the feature but, instead, let people opt out. Yet, at the same time, they think that people will get used to it. And they are telling their users why they should like it. (Gosh i hate when people try to configure their users.)

This situation is quite interesting. People are taking to the (virtual) streets to object to what the architects are doing their (virtual) city. They don’t like the changes in the architecture and they want their voices heard. And it also looks like virtual protesters can raise a far greater ruckus than the ones in meatspace.

While digital communities are fantastic, one of the issues is that people don’t actually own the turf in which they’re creating cultural artifacts. When earthquakes rattle digital streets, it’s not Mother Nature at work. It’s the work of a Corporation. We all like to think that these corporations have the best of intentions and we rely on them to serve the people. Yet, as Sasha is always reminding me, they are not elected officials, this is not a democracy, it’s a benevolent dictatorship. We count on the creators to be benevolent but they can make an earthquake whenever they want and we still have to clean up the pieces.

I wonder what this protest cost Facebook. I also wonder if they will learn from this. (I still have immense respect for Six Apart from the time when they pissed off their users and apologized and changed.) But more than anything, i wonder when companies will start thinking of their users as constituents and think about engaging them before executing major changes to the foundation of their social interaction. Of course, i recognize it’s a tradeoff. Companies don’t want to leak what they’re doing pre-launch but if they change things radically, they piss off their core members. And the core members disengage emotionally because they don’t feel as though they’re a part of the system. Yet, in my opinion, to use Kathy Sierra’s phrase creating passionate users is *everything*. And that means engaging them rather than being as dramatic as Mother Nature.

Update: I decided to respond to myself. Facebook’s “Privacy Trainwreck”: Exposure, Invasion, and Drama

Research on Social Network Sites

UPDATE: This page is out-of-date. An updated list can be found here:

Research on Social Network Sites

Thank you!

I want to track down everyone who is actively doing research on social network sites. (Clarification: i’m looking for folks that are publishing in peer-reviewed spaces, not just researching for their company or blog.) Nicole Ellison and i are plotting to bring ways to bring everyone together. I’m also looking to create a list of all known publications. I know there’s more than what i’m listing so i need your help. Please!

Publications and Presentations

AIM pages

Has anyone been able to use AIM Pages? It doesn’t work on Safari and it keeps crashing Firefox with all sorts of bizerko errors. I can’t figure out how to add a photo on it and i keep crashing it. I’d love to hear someone else’s feedback who has been able to make it work. Is it fun to play with? What all can you put up there? Does it look cool? (And what’s up with the 16+ thing? That should be very interesting… i wonder how many teens will lie…)

Facebook and MySpace used as site of mourning/memory

Yesterday, Christine Dao (a junior at Berkeley) died in a fatal car crash. As an act of mourning, her friends wrote her dozens of comments on her Facebook Profile and MySpace Profile. These Profiles serves both as a site of mourning and a site of memory, showing Christine’s life and the love of her friends.

Christine your vigil tonite was beautiful; it’s amazing to see how many lives you touched. I’m still reeling from it all…we miss you. — Scott

Hey Chrisitne…you alway had a energetic personality, always smiling…you were one of the few that were always there for me….im going to misss you sooo much!!! rest in peace.. — Jeff

Hey Beautiful!!! I can’t imagine what happened but only to know that no matter what you will never be forgotten. The memories we’ve shared would only be cherished and we will always miss you my kid…Rest In Peace…see you when I get there…. — Pao

There is no good way to mourn the loss of someone young, but what fascinates me about these messages on Christine’s Profiles is that they are all written to her but visible for everyone to see. A persistent, public signal of mourning. Her friends are speaking _to_ her, not about her.

Her actual Profile is unchanged even though it looks so alive. Her photos show her in action and her interests include statements like “love going to Cal Football games. laughing. finding cool people who i can laugh with. cracking jokes. getting jokes cracked on me. music-ing. rsf-ing (need a work out plan like Kanye West). taking long walks. my hoes. having FUN!”

What does it mean to write persistent comments for the dead? Is it a sign of respect, of public remembrance? I hope so. Rest in peace Christine.

porn distribution on Friendster and MySpace

When Paul posted about odd messages from girls on Friendster and MySpace, i couldn’t help but break out in giggles.

In most free hetero online dating sites, the vast majority of girls are fake. They write men (which gets them all excited because few women write to men). Guys write back, curious to learn more. And when the girl writes back, she tells you about how you can visit her site to learn more. Of course, the site is a porn site where you have to pay to enter. This works well because a fraction of the men ::shrug:: and figure it could be hot and another chunk think that they are conversing with a porn star, which would be super hott.

When companies take down these hott girl profiles, it disrupts the whole economy. “Real” girls don’t want to participate because the caliber of women just went down and most women want to be connected to other hot women. Men leave because the quality was diminished. And down the spiral we go.

Well, it seems like fake profiles have taken on a new form on Friendster and MySpace. Sure enough, in writing back, Paul got a link to photos. Hot girls, happy to sell you their porn. Yay! (But why aren’t they contacting me???) So how bad will it get? (And does the same thing operate in gay male culture?)

YASNS by any other name

I was talking to a friend and somehow social networking services came up and she said her boyfriend referred to them all as “my live tribester space.” I like that sooo much more than YASNS. ::giggle::

social networks and drug networks

Rule #1 for studying social culture: pay attention to the sex and drugs.

When it was reported that Orkut is being used as a drug networking tool in Brazil, my immediate response was duh.

I have interviewed subjects who distributed cocaine in Baltimore via Friendster. (To my knowledge, they were never caught which makes it different than the situation with Orkut.) Other subjects have told me ways to find drugs on and MySpace. Obviously, i am not willing to disclose how or who. But this is definitely not unique to Orkut nor to social networking in general. For example, in college, people used to buy drugs on eBay.

Give people the ability to distribute information and they will distribute drugs. Tis just as obvious as if you give people access to attractive people, they will date. So, i find it very entertaining that people get up in arms about this.

initial impression of Yahoo 360

Today, Yahoo invited a handful of “influencers” to have early access to their new product 360 degrees. Apparently, i’m one of them so i got to sit around a table at Yahoo, learn about the product and speak my mind. I have to say that i’m impressed that Yahoo folks wanted to hear all of our crankiness head-on rather than waiting for it to appear in our random ramblings online. Even better: they didn’t make us sign any NDAs so we can blog all we want. I lurve that.

So, the tool comes out in like a week. I don’t know how final the version that we saw today is, but i thought i’d offer some impressions based on what i saw since i know folks out there are curious.

360 will be invite-only but they are not seeding through employees, rather, they are seeding through active Yahoo users. This is actually very important because frankly, 360 isn’t meant for people like me (or like you). It’s meant for your average not-technically inclined individual who is scared of blogging but wants to share their thoughts, photos, and recommendations with their friends. Thus, before we all get into a blogizzy, it’s important to remember the target.

The feature set that i saw included integrated YIM, a blogging tool, a recommendations engine (linked to local), photos (linked to Y photos, not Flickr) and a social network. It’s all very integrated and emphasizes Yahoo products (although they were talking about connecting it with other products and they are doing some RSS stuff). Throughout all of this are heavy controls for privacy/publication, although it is all strict categorization schemes where you can make things available to groups (think: LJ).

Of course, it has all of the social problems of bi-directional, articulated social networks (nothing solved there). And the controls are really overwhelming. In fact, a lot of the product is overwhelming for the not-technically-savvy and i think that this will be their major problem unless they figure out how to slowly expose things (one of our strongest recommendations). For the techgeek, it will feel like they didn’t go far enough, didn’t have enough features, etc. That’s actually a lot easier to solve than the overwhelming problem and i expect they’ll build new features soon so i think that the techgeeks should wait. But i’m really worried about the novice user because it has many of the problems of blogging, privacy and social networks rolled into one big problem. Plus, you really need to be heavily integrated into the Yahoo network for it to really make sense.

Frankly, i think that they should take the word “blog” out of the picture entirely. While the service allows you to share your materials with layered groups of friends, the term ‘blog’ is intimidating to the mainstream who see it as publishing or otherwise uber-public. Since Yahoo isn’t requiring uber-public, i think that they should get rid of the term. We’ll see what happens.

I also think that it makes much much more sense connected with photosharing and i really wish that they would wait on this product until Flickr is connected with them – there’s going to be so much overlap and confusion 🙁 Plus, while there are huge problems with Flickr’s system of privacy management, there’s a lot that they have going for them interface wise. For example, you don’t have to click stupid edit buttons – you can edit while consuming. This is soooo cool. I wish more folks would have fun with javascript.

Anyhow, my general impression is that i’m wary, but i don’t think that this is for me and i think it will be nice for the heavily integrated Yahoo user.