WEB101 – Introducing Social Networking

Official Thread: Introducing Social Networking

This week we look at social networking sites. The reading from boyd and Ellison gives a definition of social networking sites, as well as discussing some of the research happening around these sites. How do boyd and Ellison define social networking sites? Were there any aspects of their definition that surprised you, or that you disagree with? Do you have questions or comments about this reading? Feel free to share them here, to answer other students’ comments!


I was particularly interested in two parts of this article.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was the comment that librarians in the United States were generally against proposed legislation that would ban minors from accessing SNSs in libraries, but that most of these same librarians regarded SNSs outside the domain of their profession (boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 223). Having worked as a librarian for some years, I could see how some would have this approach to SNSs, particularly as this article was published in 2007. Furthermore, these approaches still exist in some circles – they haven’t totally disappeared yet. I never viewed SNSs outside the domain of my profession, in fact, I always sought ways to harness it in order to enhance my classes and enable good rapport with the clients I met and assisted. However, in this context, it occurred to me that what might have laid behind this attitude was not only a fear of technology, but the concern that by accepting the use of such technology within the library environment, professionals would then be expected to police the use of it. I think this would be particularly pertinent to the public or school library sectors, as the potential for minors to use SNSs would be much higher.

There was also a reference to Patricia Lange, who “complicates traditional dichotomies between ‘‘public’’ and ‘‘private’’ by analyzing how YouTube participants blur these lines in their video-sharing practices” (boyd & Ellison, 2008, p.224). I found this statement intriguing – I had a good idea of what it meant, but decided to research her work further. I came across a paper she wrote entitled Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube (Lange, 2007). In this paper, she provided the results of extensive interviews she made with people who used YouTube on a semi-regular to constant basis. Their social connections within YouTube, some private, some public, seemed to dictate the ways in which they used YouTube as a social space. I was particularly interested in her interrogation of avid users who had generated a fan base, and chose to hide their identity in their videos by wearing masks, hats and sunglasses. Some reasoned that they didn’t want their professional lives to be affected by what they posted on YouTube, so they had to maintain their anonymity. Others merely wanted to create intrigue and keep their fans guessing about who they were and what they were about. Then, there were those users who created closed groups, shared videos only within those groups (which were still findable if one was persistent enough), and used code-words to tag their videos so that only the elite members of those groups could find and see the videos being made and uploaded to You Tube.

This whole article reminded me of the early days of the chat environments on the internet. People tended to choose handles rather than use their real names. It was a form of escapism back then in some ways – you could do and be whoever you wanted to be. You could feel relatively confident that nobody knew who you really were besides finding out your IP address if they wanted to. It was a great playground, particularly for teenagers – acting out all your real thoughts and feelings without the repercussions that could potentially occur today. It created an underground in a way – separating those who knew what they were doing from those who were banished as the newbies who didn’t know the right chat dialogue and acceptable norms and behaviour within the chat halls.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1). Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x/full

Lange, P. G. (2007). Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 361-380. http://10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00400.x


Hi Maha,

The shifts over time in how we approach the public/private division (or lack of division) online are interesting. With Google’s acquisition of YouTube, it seems like there’s recently been a push to link YouTube use to Google Plus accounts (which YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim has taken extreme exception to), which given Google’s ‘real names’ policy is likely to make it much harder to remain anonymous on the site.

I also remember my early days online, when it was much more common to use pseudonyms than real names. It’s quite a different experience being online now!


Gosh, I remember interacting with people who had handles like KriTiCaL. LOL Hilarious to watch, thanks, S.! It’s nice to know that there are still some people out there who have issues with the system.

But, the point made is valid. We have to choose to follow the rules, or we are ostracised from such online communities eventually.

I really enjoyed reading Cory Doctorow’s ‘Scroogled’, which was mentioned somewhere in Rettberg’s reading. An engaging read, but scary too, as the things he covers are already happening in our world.

Maha…  Smile


Yes, it’s a little scary how soon fiction becomes reality! This is especially the case with a lot of Doctorow’s writing, much of which is thinly-veiled political critique (not that that’s a bad thing!)


About Maha @ Uni

Studying online, and want to keep a record of my progress and experiences...
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