Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship
danah boyd and Nicole Ellison's article offers a birds-eye-view on social networking sites with a focus on their history. The article was published in a special issue (13:1) of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication which the authors edited. The article is largely aimed at giving context to the articles in the issue on social networking sites.
The authors define social network sites (SNS) as:
- Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connections, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. (pg. 211)
The interest in SNSs comes from the fact that they enable users to make their existing social networks visible are not designed (primarily) as systems to meet new people.
The authors provide a detailed time-line which is interesting and an important contribution in its own right. They discuss the site Six Degrees.com which was created in 1997 but went out of business and concluded that it was ahead of its time. They also focus on the rise (and fall) of Friendster and the degree to which social networks then proliferated and "hit the mainstream."
They provide a high-level view of previous scholarship by focusing on:
- Impression management and the way that people use networks to create representations of themselve0s and the way that links play into this.
- Networks and network structure with a focus on mining SNS for social network data useful in network analysis of a variety of kinds.
- Bridging online and offline worlds and research on the fact that most SNS tend to reflect and reinforcing existing "offline" networks.
- Privacy work from a variety of perspectives that explored the impacts and feelings of users in regards to privacy and the effects of SNSs on decreased privacy.
The paper concludes with a description of the work in the special issue and a small (and extremely broad and vague) section on future work that is optimistic about the potential for future work and for ethnographic work in particular.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
boyd and Ellison's article has been cited more than 500 times in the 2 years since it was published. It is quickly becoming a major citation for almost anybody doing work on social networks or who wants to cite or contextual their work in the body of work on SNSs.