Audience Member: With the Facebook newsfeed, I’m wondering how the virtual connections are affecting peoples communication in the real world.
FS: The question is are these networks changing everything. As humans, I think we change pretty slowly. It does not become acceptable to do things just because they are on the social network. These things are, however, changing our lives. But people are finding out more information and doing new things: you used to need to /invite/ people to your party. You can put it out there for the public and so some of the social pressure is taken off. We’re still acting in the same ways, but there are some efficiency gains in these networks. We are doing some things better.
Think about a social network for your neighborhood. There is a lot of latent information
iNeighbors project of Keith Hampton shows interesting potential. But in general the "lizard brain" changes slowly.
Audience Member: Have you found in your research that there is a polarizing effect for people who do not have many friends, who are not the most popular kid, that this exacerbates feelings of loneliness?
FS: I haven’t studied that specifically, but looking at the network. It seems like everybody can have around 300 friends. These are not places where people continue their introversion. Research has not found introversion affecting online friendship formation. It might be the popular people who feel the need to restrict their access.
Judith Arnold: Are people studying who is not participating. I thought of the Myers-Briggs Personality profile. As an INFP, I wonder if there are people who feel social pressure to participate but who do not necessarily find it appealing.
FS: One of my students presented on the non-participants, but these were hard to find, actually. There were not many non-participants. In many ways if you were/are not on facebook, you were a nonparticipant. If I could not find you, you were invisible socially. We found about 6% of people who were not participating. It seems more or less that everyone was part of this; the pressure to join was very real.
I’m on three social networks. The one that I use the most is Friendster. I was wondering if you’ve noticed different levels of participation on various networks. Are there differing levels when people are on multiple network sites:
FS: That’s a great question. The places that matter to you in the social context are places where your friends are. If your friends are there, then you stay there and the affordances are not enough to make you switch. What we tend to see is a cascade effect. For people to switch, they need incentives. As more and more people join, the incentives to shift become greater. It is actually quite normal to stay where you are if you are getting what you need.
Cindy Smith, University of Michigan: Have you done studies of social network impacts in other places such as China. Are there any longitudinal studies designed to watch the process over 20-30-40 years for what happens with the conceptualization of friendship. What does it mean to have a 24-7 identity in social space. How is our relationship with our past likely to change through this new persistence in a much more dense way.
FS: People think of social networking differently in different places. In Asia, Western Europe it may be more in terms of mobile devices. For many of us the vector is facebook. For others it comes in other ways. Richard Ling does amazing work with mobile devices. There are a variety of longitudinal studies conducted by Pew (Internet and American Life).
Aaron Retish, Wayne State University: How do you think the concept of citizenship or social relations is going to transform. Not only is the public sphere transforming, but corporations are transforming corporate network. Will this tension disappear as people give way to corporate influence and allow themselves to be shaped. Can this exist outside of a capitalist economy.
FS: Some of my early work was on political identification in Facebook. Do you put your real identity out there or do you list your accurate views. From the data, people tended to present a more centrist view or withheld that information.
The concept of the interaction with corporate interests is interesting. We are really at a critical point. Corporations are really attempting to monetize this social graph and making it part of your identity. Part of Facebook’s strategy also includes friending brands; you can now make Coke a friend of yours. Young people, however, seem able to communicate in these realms. Club Penguin, a network for young people, has developed its own language. Because you cannot swear, people began to use numbers; now they have banned the use of numbers. Nobody is speaking up for the communicator here.
The next few iterations of this are going to be standards-based. Email exists as a standard that is not-branded.
Just last night I blogged about a site called thepoint.com, a tipping point blog that tries to deal with the free rider problem ("I’m going to have a party if X-number of people show up.")
FS: This is an expanding field and sites such as eventful.com and eventful demands have actually been used to get political candidates to places that want those candidates.
Kevin Deegan-Krause, Wayne State University: How do we organize our professional lives to make use of this in academic setting.
FS: There is so much latent information out there and I think all of us wish we knew when our colleagues were publishing, writing, thinking. The question arises "should we invest in facebook?" Some will and some won’t. I have seen some academic communities emerging, but you have to convince people to join them. Joining another site is time and energy consuming. Network migration does happen; we don’t always go to the same restaurant all the time. We move from one place. Where do I invest my effort and what happens if they shut down or if they introduce a terrible upgrade. It is sort of unresolved. But as we iterate, as we develop greater levels of facility, it becomes easier. As we think about how communication is adopted, we will carry our communications practices forward. I can imagine a time when we use these structures in lieu of sending pdfs to one another.
Time for a break. Russell Dalton comes next.