Revenge of the Social Network: Lessons from Friendster

 Danah Boyd, UC Berkeley SIMS

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 4, 2005

Social networking is a fundamental feature of all social software. From blogrolls to Buddylists, people have learned to negotiate implicit networks in everyday digital interaction. Yet, in a re-popularization of a 1997 fad, social networking has achieved popular and technological prominence in its explicit form. Dozens of sites have emerged to address how social networks can help people connect to have sex, find jobs, sell cars, and waste inordinate amounts of time.

Embedded in the culture of social networks is an increasing tension between the creators and the users as each are unaware of the expectations and motivations of the other. In what ways are these sites intended to model offline behavior? How do the technological shifts create a shift in social behavior? Does current social theory properly explain the emerging behaviors or must new theories be developed that challenge the current?

Drawing from ethnographic research on Friendster and other social networking sites, this talk will address the tensions that have emerged between creators and users as both work to understand the emerging social and technological boundaries. Although technological solutions are often proposed to solve unexpected social behavior, it is precisely this behavior that teaches us the most about our social and technical frameworks.

danah boyd is a Ph.D. student in Information Management and Systems (SIMS) at the University of California, Berkeley. She received an MS in sociable media from MIT Media Lab and a BA in computer science from Brown University. She studies how people negotiate their presentation of self in mediated social contexts to an unknown audience. Recently, her work has focused on Friendster, blogging, mobile technologies and youth culture.


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