There’s a fantastic paper up on First Monday, an online journal I’ve written about before, “Friends, friendsters, and top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites”. It’s an interesting look at how social networking sites affect and are affected by their users. I’ve touch on this before in “Will you be my Friendster”.
Some interesting quotes from the paper:
Investigating Friendship in LiveJournal, Kate Raynes-Goldie and Fono (2005) found that there was tremendous inconsistency in why people Friended others. They primarily found that Friendship stood for: content, offline facilitator, online community, trust, courtesy, declaration, or nothing.
Or nothing! I wonder if this applies to business networking sites such as Linked In?
Talking about the early users:
Much to the chagrin of the developers, the early adopters of Friendster framed the social norms, not the system’s designers. Taking advantage of the technological affordances, early adopters used the site to meet their needs. In turn, because of the networked structure of Friendster, they passed on their norms to their friends. Their Profiles signaled what type of people belonged and their communication practices conveyed what types of behavior one could expect.
See Social Software and the Politics of Groups for more on how groups bend social software as they wish.
And from the conclusion:
Part of what makes the negotiation of Friendship on social network sites tricky is that it’s deeply connected to participant’s offline social life. Their choice of Friends online is not a set of arbitrary personal decisions; each choice has the potential to complicate relationships with friends, colleagues, schoolmates, and lovers. Social network sites are not digital spaces disconnected from other social venues — it is a modeling of one aspect of participants’ social worlds and that model is evaluated in other social contexts. In thinking about Friendship practices on social network sites, it is crucial to evaluate them on their own terms, recognizing the role of technology and social navigation rather than simply viewing them as an extension of offline friendship.
The paper is long but well worth a read.