December 13, 2007

Intercises of Cyberspace and Subjectivity

It has become clear to me that the value of this ethnography lies not in my description of experiences, but rather in elucidating the myriad shifting possibilities that emerge in the highly intersubjective field of discourses. As my research has deepened, the one thread that ties these discourses together is the pervasive feelings of anxiety evoked by the blurred boundaries between subject and object, voyeur and exhibitionist, human and machine, reality and imagination. All technologies extend the possibilities of humankind, and in turn, they become humanized and embedded in everyday experiences. However, at times technologies may seem alien and incomprehensible, instigating fear and a sense of powerlessness. The sense of agency felt as one “types oneself into being” through the creation of a publicly viewable online profile can quickly be negated by the discovery that this personal freedom comes with the cost of possible persecution by unintended audiences, such as potential employers and legal authorities. What occurs is a split of selfhood, a temporal shift of identity from intentional author to victimized object of the gaze.

Despite the existential anxieties that arise frequently in everyday discourse, many celebrate the Internet for its potential to democratize information. The perceptual difference between the democratization of information and the invasion of personal privacy lies in the degree of power individuals perceive themselves as having over the medium, as well as the extent to which they feel the medium has power over them. A common way of regaining control and agency when confronting one’s own powerlessness is with words and thoughts, projecting apathy or distaste and finding affirmation through others. Feeling a loss of connection, my friend described her adolescent brother as “consumed by MySpace, his gaze never turning from the computer screen”. For her brother, it is likely that MySpace conveniently fulfills his youthful desire to hang out in a space safe, away from the judging gaze of his family. To reject or criticize is to reclaim one’s subjectivity, or at least portray oneself as the author of one’s own meanings.

Years ago, I endeavored to learn Swahili and travel to Zanzibar for fieldwork. As I became engaged with the actual practice of writing ethnography, however, it became clear to me that writing the “other” would always feel somewhat wrong, condescending. When I wrote my first paper on Facebook back in the spring of 2006, I was struck by the way in which my own experiences resonated in my writing, how the words of others challenged and complicated my perspective with layers of meaning. In other words, I realized the ethnographic authority in my own position as a “native” of an emergent “other”. Eventually, the real struggle became that of subverting such a perceived authority in pursuit of deep listening- of practicing empathetic, temporal re-interpretations of my interpretations. It is easy to say in theory, but difficult to show in practice. As such, I have concocted plans for a website that would ideally bring to life the co-constructive nature of this project by enabling further co-authorship in the form of a wiki . Rather than simply purporting a “native” interpretation, such an ethnography incorporates the voices of “other natives” as well as “others”. As for now? I no longer have a working title. That, too, must emerge out of the thematic coalescence of the many stories and experiences that demand still further interpretation.

December 12, 2007

Facebook is Evil. Whatever.

The following was initially a comment on danah boyd's recent post discussing Facebook's "slippery slope" of betraying its users, most recently with Project Beacon. Please share your thoughts if you have them!

"Trusting Facebook users" are generally older folk- I think they're more open to publicizing their online profiles because they're seeking to make connections, they're gaining from the public exposure and excited by all the novel possibilities. My ethnography of social networking sites primarily re/presents the voices of college students- particularly veteran Facebook users. The site started out as being a great little niche environment, so people could exchange intimate messages and upload photos from that crazy party where everyone was on a ton of drugs and so on. Then it opened up, everyone was pissed, and that's when attitudes toward Facebook started to shift.

Most first-generation Facebookers have some degree of distrust/disgust for the site, often a great deal of it. Yet they continue to use it because it's become so firmly integrated into campus social life- it's a way to easily invite people to parties and share photos from said parties, to visually organize one's social network and keep track of alumni and old high school buddies, to find out the sexuality or relationship status of that boy you've been admiring from afar. It's crucial. If you're not on Facebook, you're going to be somewhat out of the loop.

Such important social practices generally take precedence over the egregious invasions of privacy that most are highly suspicious of. The trend is not abandoning Facebook- it's far too useful. However, the site's reputation is definitely tainted, and some Facebookers are using the site to form or join groups that promote awareness of Facebook's privacy policies and petition for change. Most, however, are simply becoming more savvy and protective of their online personas; it's become increasingly common for me to be unable to access the profiles of those I'm not friends with because of that practice. Others have simply taken to deleting much of their profiles, leaving just an e-mail address, a witty or ironic comment, and maybe a funny picture. There's also a huge trend to apathetically accept that nothing can be done about it, much like how a lot of young people feel about our government.

Again, these are just observations of the changing attitudes among a specific subset of Facebook users. They know what's going on (though I would say that only the Tech-savvy blog-readers have even heard about Project Beacon- but they know their information is being used for capitalist endeavors), they're disgruntled that so much of what they do on Facebook is publicly broadcast and forever archived. Regardless of how they talk about it, however, they're still using it regularly for everyday social practices. For many, it's become as habitual to check Facebook as it is to check e-mail.

November 28, 2007

This Space is a Place Within Space

I am constantly reworking the whole. Truth be told, things have never been so gooey. I recommend clicking.

November 26, 2007

Emergence for an Update

The past six weeks have been spent throwing myself into the writing of my thesis. Currently, I have 53 pages of solid writing, and in the process have discovered an emergent structure that belies that which I'd previously been naively imposing on myself. It has become clear to me that I am able to provide a kind of phenomenological perspective that is notably absent from much of the preexisting literature on computer-mediated communication, generally, and online social networks, particularly.

I have found a lot of journalism, a lot of psychology, a lot of sociology, and various intersections of the three. Don't get me wrong, there is some great research out there, but the vast majority is either biased to some degree (not that there is such a thing as being unbiased, but that's a whole other post) or somewhat dehumanizing, Anthropology, in contrast, is the analysis of individual voices and perspectives that make up webs of meaning and power. Humanism and science spring forth and coalesce! But I digress: in tandem with the written thesis, I am also creating a website. A website that is both a blog (this blog) as well as a wiki, so as to better articulate a) my personal ethnographic and research process, and b) the various media sources involved in the construction of my knowledge (images, blogs, videos, online articles, public forums, the sites themselves, etc;).

By the way, if anyone reading this has any career advice, throw me a bone!

October 9, 2007

Mass Media Belongs to the Masses

The character of mass media has been shifting dramatically over the past century- from the one-directional consumption of television, to the dialogical (yet niche) nature of online bulletin boards, to the enormous multimedia production of today. As the tools of new media increase in accessibility and expand in ubiquity, we find ourselves in conversation with a public audience that is more or less evident.

Knowing who one's audience is can be a tricky process. Blogs, websites, and publicly-accessible online profiles entail invisible publics. The creation of Friend Lists and the implementation of privacy features restricts one's audience and enhances awareness of it. Through the lens of the social graph, we can create categorical definitions of our audiences by labeling clusters of relations.

(From the looks of it, it would appear that my social network revolves around the following sites: Wesleyan, Boston, NY, San Francisco, Washington D.C, and the Northwest US):

There is something intrinsically satisfying in visual representation that text lacks. There are also few things more desirable than that which reflects oneself, however iconically.

TouchGraph, the company behind this Facebook application, says on their website:
"Traditional search engines provide a way to sift through this data. However, the greatest insights can be achieved not by sifting, but by looking at the big picture to see how items are connected."

Just the name of the company- TouchGraph, beckons us outside of the textuality of the Internet (a quality that is becoming progressively less prominent), allowing us to grasp our wider place in the virtual world on a more intuitive level.

Such data also allows us to understand exactly how limited our individual, direct scope actually is. I predict that the practice of mirroring real-life social networks will soon become secondary to the process of producing engaging media- which, as the Internet becomes increasingly searchable, will find its place amongst wider taste fabrics. These "taste fabrics" are constructed through "word of mouth" reconfigured to the modern sense- that is, hyperlinked. In turn we may find ourselves navigating visual representations of the taste fabrics we create through our Google searches, our social networks, and our own content.

Emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth this is what the self-emancipation of our epoch consists of. This "historical mission of installing truth in the world" cannot be accomplished either by the isolated individual, or by the atomized crowd subjected to manipulation, but now as ever by the class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes by bringing all power into the dealienating form of realized democracy, the Council, in which practical theory controls itself and sees its own action. This is possible only where individuals are "directly linked to universal history"; only where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious.
-Guy Debord

October 5, 2007

Musings on the Big Picture

I have been thinking of online social networks as pertinent examples of a generational trend, marked by the increasing appropriation of the media and proliferation of contextualized interpretations by disparate individuals, connected through shared taste fabrics that are founded, by and large, on mass media. The rise of Web 2.0 signifies a shift toward user-generated content in the form of blogs, photo albums, videos, music, niche communities, message board dialogue, playful interaction, computer media, and creative displays of identity (what I call the "mashup").

The locale of the hearth (that which is safe, secure) has shifted, from the family home theater clustered around the television to a dynamic mirror of ourselves as relational wholes, albeit individually fragmented. We have begun to bridge the gap between producers and consumers of media- increasing interactivity allows for a two-way dialogue as opposed to the directional nature of mass media.

However, all is not oral. New media is rather a hybrid of oral and written language- at once casual yet permanent, private yet public, intimate yet mediated. We are creating the media, but must not forgot the role of the media in inculcating our understandings of reality.

September 22, 2007

Plaintively Researching

These past few weeks have been a rush of novel experiences, as I reconfigure my identity in an extremely pointed way. I have been meeting so many new people, and first conversations almost inevitably touch upon my research, which is essentially what i do (who i am?) right now.

As a result, I've taken to carrying a digital voice recorder in my pocket. It's mere presence has a similar effect on me as speaking in front of a crowd of people: intense social phobia. I treat the object gingerly, awed by its potential to preserve the situation so very perfectly in a peculiar mode. Tonight, a friend who promotes his tracks on MySpace spoke of Google's vast database of categorized interest nodes, sending advertisements directed uniquely at his individual identity as derived from his web browsing habits. Google's rumored launch to "out-open" Facebook- that is to say, become the next leading online social network, is of particular interest to me, as is the increasing popularity of niche social networking sites, blogospheres, and Second Life.

September 10, 2007

Survey on Online Social Networking Habits!

I am conducting a short survey for users of Facebook, MySpace, and/or

Your participation in this survey is entirely voluntary, and you may terminate participation at any time prior to the completion of this survey without penalty. Please understand that the information you provide will be viewed only by the researcher, and that any responses published will not enable identification of me in any way.

Questions and concerns can be directed to Jenny Ryan (researcher) @
Further information and future publications can be found at

I Agree, Continue to Survey!

September 6, 2007

Changing Attitudes Toward Facebook

As the tech world continues to grow wild for Facebook, the veteran users in my midst- college students- continue to grow indifferent, even annoyed- or so their group discourse would have me believe. "The applications were pretty fun at first," said one energetic, people-loving friend, "I like throwing food at my friends and turning them into zombies... but it got old real fast." "They're stupid, they're annoying, I just really don't care at all anymore," said another friend, who'd spent his past semester abroad, "I mean, I guess it's useful for keeping in touch with people you don't care enough about to e-mail."

"Well, I care so little that I let her," Dave points a finger at his girlfriend, "go in and change my whole profile around. It's ridiculous, and I haven't even changed it back." They giggle for awhile.

"There are some useful applications," I point out.

"Well, there're so many of them, I don't feel like sifting through all of that crap. Facebook's turning into MySpace."

At the same time, I've found that my friends on Facebook continue to be highly active, having become skilled at interacting with the more useful features of the site. 25% of the most recent 50 emails in my inbox are Facebook notifications of some sort- generally, event listings, friend requests, wall messages, and pokes. These are some of the ways in which we attempt to connect to one another through forming and maintaining relationships and collective cohesion, digitally.

My conclusion? It's just not "cool" to like Facebook- one is better off being critical- but many of us depend on it in some way or another as a way of maintaining social bonds. We've grown addicted.

September 2, 2007

Log the Third

Today, after my sister expressed her love for me on my Facebook wall (as she is wont to do), I recorded my first video wall post. Unfortunately, I'm unable to "repost" the video here, but I will say it was quite simple, and rather successful! Facebook recently implemented a variety of options on what was once a user "wall" constrained to text alone. Now, one can record video, post a link, post a band (one needs to first register their band at ReverbNation and upload a few songs, which can then be posted on one's profile, or linked to on another's wall), send a randomly-generated fortune cookie, give a "zombie hug", send a cookie, give a daisy, or post a popular song (when I clicked on this, there was a search bar, as well as 3 popular songs listed: Avril Lavigne, 50 Cent, and Death Cab for Cutie).

I also spent a solid 15 minutes taking screen captures of my friend's MySpace profile. I made myself stop at 50 shots, that's how long his profile page is. Lots of links, artistic images, poetry, politically-oriented buttons and banners, the usual favorite books and movies and such, a long introduction (that is prefaced with:
your band (unless your organic/synthetic spiritual sounds and presentation could totally wow me, DON'T EVEN BOTHER)
Promoters of any kind!(go away)
spiders, crawlers, spammers, etc go away i don't like you!
people...who freak me out. (it's pretty hard to accomplish)

and now! on to the good stuff!"

His comments were nearly as fun to sift through as the profile itself. Beautiful images, replete with some animated sparkles or color shifts, adorned his walls. The requisite "Thanks for the add!" comment was also a strong presence. The majority of the content was "New Age" in nature- faeries, Alex Grey, and my favorite:

August 27, 2007

Log the Second

I ran across an interesting thread on yesterday entitled "What is Technoshamanism?" You can read it here, but in a nutshell, the respondees described technoshamanism as a means of uniting the past and the present, or the spiritual and the technological. From dancing around a bonfire to the beat of the drums, to dancing all night long to electronic trance music, the end goal is a spiritual connection to the universe that dates back to the beginning of humankind's time on this planet.

I have to simply marvel, at times, how meticulously the system of Facebook is run. Nothing is deleted, all is stored. Upon deleting my Facebook account, I learned that the moment I logged in again, my entire account- the photos, the messages, the wall posts- would be rekindled from my momentary lapse of Facebook identity, as if I had taken a vacation... which, admittedly, I had.

The new frontier for individualism, the virtual frontier, is at this point still an open one. However, as this sphere becomes increasingly dominated by large corporate networks, understanding the illusory nature of agency is critical. John Barlow's Declaration for the Independence of Cyberspace has never been more poignant.

Log the First

It is the first night living alone - this one, right now. Telling myself I need to take a break from the carrying, the unpacking, the arranging of my possessions in an aesthetically pleasing manner, I hop onto the internet to check messages. A familiar name pops out at me from a Facebook notification- a dear friend who'd spent the entirety of the past year in Spain. She writes to tell me she'll be at Wesleyan on Tuesday, and I go from alone in the glow of the monitor to basking in the glow of love, instantly.

I click the 'Home' button, and scroll through my News Feed. A tiny heart appears at the bottom of the screen- a man who'd led a Buddhist retreat had a new girlfriend! And they'd hooked up in 2006 and it was "fabulous". This is way better than tabloids, because I actually sorta know this guy. I mean, we're Facebook Friends.

MySpace is plastered with Dane Cook. MySpace is for bros. My 19 year old cousin assaults the ears of visitors to her profile with screamo and concludes her welcome message with "i probably don't like you." All of my friend requests are from electronic musicians. I do enjoy electronic music, by and large. A friend of mine who recently began producing tracks just joined MySpace, and already has over 400 friends. I asked if he'd been spending a lot of time "friending" MySpacers, and he replied, "well, half of them have friended me". His Comments board is plastered with psychedelic images, a few of them animated. There is an image of a woman whose moniker contains the word "suicide," holding a pair of black panties beneath a caption that reads "Thanks for the add! xoxo".

That is all.

August 18, 2007

On Technoshamans and the Rise of Neotribalism

Asked to attempt a summation of the online social networking community known as, I have taken to replying with the single phrase, "technoshamanism". It seems the word has not yet been taken up by many, so I'll attempt a definition here.

(For a little background information, you'd be keen to check out a term project I worked on for my Anthropology of Dance class, entitled "The Trance Dance Experience".)

A technoshaman is one who integrates modern technology into primordial practices in order to induce transcendent experiences. Now, such a description evokes remnants of that anthropological black mark- the noble savage- and thus I proceed with caution, unwilling to romanticize:

Technoshamanism seeks to rediscover the roots of human experience while utilizing modern tools. Such tools can range from repetitive electronic music, to synthetic drugs, to new technologies such as biofeedback. The states thus induced might range from supersensory to meditative. Modern "rave" culture (and I use this term with caution as well, for the rave scene has become inundated by the mainstream, thus necessitating an emergent subculture(s)) incorporates just such tools to achieve just such states, and where site and ideology merge, we have our subculture.

Regardless of terminology, the essence of such subcultures is the pursuit of the collective unconscious, consciously realized and enacted. When I say "neotribal," I refer to the tribal experience as it is recreated in the modern day. Safe spaces are created through collective artistic action; drugs consumed that serve to enhance feelings of empathy, community, clairvoyance, and/or transcendence; music played that serves to enhance said feelings and provide the collective pulse. This occurs with varying degrees of success, depending on whether individuals collaborate effectively to achieve the same goals.

The Internet is, quite naturally, one of those modern technologies that is utilized by technoshamans as a means of tapping into the collective neural network. As it exists apart (or, at the very least, disjointed) from time and space, the shape and texture of the Internet resembles that of technoshamanism itself. That's all I've got for now.

August 13, 2007

My Dad's Checked Me Out on Facebook, GAH!

It was bound to happen eventually. Last week, I received a Facebook friend request from my dad. When I followed the link, however, the friend request had disappeared. Apparently my father wised up pretty quickly- it was much easier to log into my sister's account (she uses his laptop all the time), and check me out from the inside. Last night, my sister was showing me some pictures on Facebook- we showed one to my dad, who commented, "oh, I've seen those." We looked up, startled. "Oh, what's the matter? There's nothing bad on there," he recovered quickly. We stared at one another for a long minute.

Later that night, relaxing in our nifty new hot tub, I broached the subject once more. "So, I got a friend request from you last week, but you'd disappeared. I guess you caught on to the personal nature of Facebook?" He nodded imperceptibly. "So, tell me if this is what happened- you joined the site, realized you couldn't simply view people's profiles without adding them as friends, and decided to stalk us through Kelly's account instead?" He smiled sheepishly, confirming my suspicions. I felt, and not for the first time, worried and exposed. But only for a moment... with relief I remembered that both my brother and sister have access only to my Limited Profile, which prevents them from viewing my "Friends Only" photo albums. Three cheers for conscientiousness!

Two New Ones: Multiply and Yuwie

A few days ago, at an outdoor psytrance party in Boston, I caught up with a friend I had made at another party- a German cardiac surgeon-in-training. I asked how we could keep in touch, and he responded instantly, "e-mail is best". I agreed, and the next day received an invitation to join the social networking site Multiply. I liked it instantly: utterly content-based, Multiply "is all about user powered, relationship-relevant content. Every post in your news feed is shared and discussed by people you know, either directly or indirectly through friends of friends." Multiple blogs can be uploaded, video and photo archives shared, mp3s uploaded, reviews and events posted, and personal messages sent.

A new SNC startup, Yuwie, pays its users 50 cents for every 1,000 page views. Each time content is uploaded, a message is sent, content is viewed (including pictures) or a friend accepts an invitation to the site, it counts as a page view. I find it a pretty blatant example of the increasing commodification of social life through new technologies. However, it is slightly comforting that at least someone out there is seeking to grant users their rightful profit for the "work" they do to keep the founders of SNCs rich and popular.

August 10, 2007

Reflections on Methodology

Even the acknowledgment, as requisite as it is in the field of anthropology, of the problematic nature of representing the "other" (ethnocentrism, racism, colonialism, imperialism, etc;) has become tired, stationary, and ultimately beleaguered by jargon. I seek the active creation of an ethnography both by and for the people- accessible as an inspired, collaborative story-telling. Such an endeavor thus expands the reach of information, rather than folding in upon itself in the mobius strip of academia.

Have I simply made a case for irresponsible, decontextualized ethnogaphy? The feminist concern with being "spoken for" by the dominant underlies my desire to closely examine a cultural form I can safely call my own. My autoethnography is, or so I hope, supplemented and lent legitimacy in the sharing of it, and in the incorporation of myriad perspectives.

Your comments would be much appreciated.

July 6, 2007

My Personal SNC History

I've been a member of MySpace since December 2004 when I was a college sophomore, about a year after the site launched. I was skeptical. Over the past two and a half years I've acquired exactly 75 friends. I rarely searched for people, preferring to accept or (more often) reject friend requests. I emphasize the rejection bit in tandem with the aforementioned skepticism- the vast majority of friend requests I received were from emo boys with bands or men attempting to woo me. MySpace took on an identity, in my mind, of a virtual "meat market". Rather than meat, however, what is being consumed seems to primarily consist of young women, CPU-heavy (not to mention gaudy) profile pages, and a seemingly infinite number of musicians. The friend requests from artists quite frequently piqued my interest, and musicians and bands make up nearly half of my MySpace friends.

I never made much of an effort on MySpace to accumulate friends, and my profile is somewhat "pimped out" only after a friend told me how lame it was. The *real" social networking service, the one all my friends used and that didn't bombard me with crappy music and headache-inducing graphics, was Facebook. Simple, clean, neat- I didn't have to worry that my parents would find me there, and practically everyone I knew at school used it (thus, for instance, it was highly likely I could find not only kids in my classes, but a phone number or screenname if I had a question about a paper). I have 350 friends on Facebook, and nearly every one is someone I've met face to face.

Last summer I lived in Boston, fell in love with psytrance, and discovered a new way in which I could communicate and solidify the casual friendships I made on the dance floor: Though I have a mere 40 friends on Tribe, what matters is not so much my own collection of friends and spiffy personal profile, but rather the groups ("tribes") I'm a part of. The history of is imbued with the sounds and styles of neo-hippies, as evidenced by its popularity amongst Burners (those who attend the annual Burning Man gathering) in the San Francisco Bay area. Activity on Tribe is quite unique from most SNCs I've been a member of: when someone adds you as a friend, they almost always include a personal message; I have several friends from around the globe who share things in common with me; each "tribe" consists primarily of topical forums (less a *badge* than a way to actually share information about a subject with others in the know).

I will continue to expand on this internet autobiography as the months progress, there are many good stories I should definitely get written down! To those readers I know are out there: feel free to share your own experiences... no, encouraged!

June 30, 2007

Sex and Gender Performance on Facebook

It's been difficult to blog recently, difficult to find my own words and articulate my own thoughts amidst this constant flood of information. However, I have been absorbing quite a lot, thanks in large part to my ever-so-useful Google homepage, in which I can organize the well over a dozen RSS feeds I read regularly, my gmail, the livejournals and podcasts of my friends, my bookmarks, and the handful of widgets I find the most useful (such as Google Maps, blog search, Google Docs, wikipedia and YouTube).

I've just returned from yet another venture through the blooming fields of Facebook, having added two more applications:

SGO: Concerns sex and gender orientation. Facebook's options are rather limited, however with the addition of this app one can differentiate between sex and gender, gender identity and gender presentation, as well as specify who one is interested in. I recall a Facebook group that advocated more diverse and politically correct options for sex and gender orientation, as well as allowing users to articulate more than one relationship- these options are now available. For more information, check out the SGO FAQ and the Relationships++ application, which allows one to specify more forms of "Looking For" (such as swinging and polyamory) as well as multiple forms of relationships (such as BFFs, civil unions, and "seeing other people than").

Socialmoth: Users can post anonymous confessions that are read by other users. The most touching or intriguing gain "hearts" that other users give in response. Thus far, I've yet to see anything particularly spicy... most confessions follow along the lines of "I wish he loved me back." or derogatory "flames".

An update on the "Honesty Box" app: Thus far, I've learned two things about myself: I inadvertantly offended someone, who found it best to let me know only in the most aggravatingly anonymous form possible, and that I'm "out of control". Assessment: the inclusion of this app has thus far served only to make me slightly paranoid and quite self-conscious.


I read a blog post recently regarding MySpace's plan to build and expand MySpace TV, as well as allowing third party applications. Such moves are being made in order to maintain their top social network status amidst the frenzy surrounding YouTube and Facebook. MySpace's reputation for processor-heavy, cluttered profile pages has prompted a growing concern over Facebook's development. Whatevs.

June 12, 2007

It's Been Awhile: SNC News!

Facebook has recently integrated the Developer's Platform into its core site, allowing users to choose from over 200 applications.

Among the most popular:
-Top Friends: Choose up to 24 friends to display directly on your profile, allowing you to both a) play favorites and b) shorten the number of clicks it takes too check up on your best friends.
-Free Gifts: Don't feel like giving to charity? Give little gifts (represented as occasionally clever icons) for your friends to display proudly on their profiles- for free!
-Video: Yes yes, now you can post videos on your profile also! Or send video messages!
-Flikster Movies: Share what movies you've seen recently with your friends- great for recommendations.
-iLike: Add music that you've been playing through iTunes. It also lists upcoming concerts, allowing you to see who else may be attending.
-Trakzor: This only works if your friends install the application also- but you can see who is viewing your Trakzor page. Note- stalking is still a 100% safe and viable Facebook activity- if you don't want to be tracked, simply don't visit people's Trakzor pages.

My personal favorites:
-Graffiti: Placed right above a profile's Wall, allows friends to draw on your wall.
-Games: Play a Battleship-type game (using sushi as playing pieces as opposed to ships), strip blackjack (they censor out the genitalia- rated E for everyone!), and more (play tetris while you wait for other users to join your game- either random or from one of your networks).
-Honesty Box: Allow your friends to anonymously tell you exactly what they think of you (don't worry, it's private- you can revel in your shame/anger/surprise in peace!). However, like the Trakzor app, your anonymous commentator also needs to install the app in order to send you a message. Once again, a useless application unless/until it becomes popular.
-(fluff)Friends: Add little graphic friends to your profile (mine is a flying giraffe I named Sasha).
-Extended Info: Add more info boxes to your profile (I added "Things I Am Looking At Right Now" and "Summer Schedule"). A Q&A site,'s Facebook app asks questions of users, pairing them to other users who've answered similarly. Users gain points as they answer questions- a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities for advertisers.


MySpace is working on a news site, currently in Beta: . I especially like the integration of Event news from LinkedIn and MeetUp. They've also recently developed a profile customizer utility that's incorporated within the site, removing the necessity of seeking external MySpace Layout sites for the non-HTML-savvy.

Also of note: For some reason or another, the number of pornography accounts requesting my friendship is exploding. At least they are easy to swiftly detect and decline- a game of "spot-the-thong".

May 15, 2007

Lit Review: A familiar Face(book): Profile elements as signals in an online social network (Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfeld)

In the third of a continuing series of Facebook research projects, Lampe et al; drew data from over 30,000 Facebook profiles at Michigan State University in order to uncover the relationships between the amount and type of profile elements presented and number of friends.

Walther's Social Information Processing Theory
: Online, lack of traditional cues leads to the development of new social cues, such as spelling ability.

Signaling Theory: Profile elements are signals used by individuals to communicate personal qualities that are interpreted by others in order to make judgments.
-Donath differentiates between assessment signals (which are observable qualities) and conventionial signals (indicated through social conventions). Online signals are generally conventional.
-In the world of Facebook, relationships are generally formed first offline. Thus, the structure of Facebook encourages honesty in profiles. Dishonesty is typically playful or ironic in nature.
-The researchers propose that the number of legitimate conventional signals included in Facebook profiles is proportionate to the size of one's online social network, as well as the signaling value of less verifiable cues (such as interests).

Common Ground Theory: Profile creation is motivated by a desire "to establish common frames or reference that enhance mutual understanding."
-Community membership is integral to assessing the amount of shared understandings, working to establish common frames of reference.
-Information derived from Facebook profiles works much in the same way as face-to-face "interviewing", indicating shared common ground that may enhance understanding between individuals (such as shared location or academic major).

Transaction Cost Theory: In establishing these common frames of reference through profiles, costly negotations ensue that work to enhance communication between interactants.
-Facebook profiles reduce the cost of connections by creating an easy way for individuals to search for those who share their interests or other attributes. Thus, the more information that is provided by an individual, the more likely they are to be found by others, enhancing the number of connections displayed by that individual.
-From this lens, the researchers suggest that the more verifiable elements and contact information is exhibited in one's Facebook profile, the greater the effects will be on the number of friends that person has.

The study used automated scripts to gather profile information, which was then encoded into four variables:
1. Control Variables: Network characteristics. (Sex, Length of Membership, Institutional Status, Last Updated)
2. Referents Index: Common points of reference, possibly assessment signals. (Hometown, High School, Residence, Concentration)
3. Interests Index: Conventional signals of identity. (Favorite Movies/Music/Books/TV Shows/Quotes, Interests, Political Views, About Me)
4. Contact Index: Willingness to share off-site connections. (Relationship Status, Looking For, Website, Address, Birthday, AIM, Email)
5. Dependent Variables: Total number of friends (Same School, Other School)

-Users completed 59% of fields on average.
-Median number of preferences listed: 5 interests, 1 book, 5 movies, 3 music, 0 TV shows, 36 characters in "About Me" section.
-Median number of friends: 75 same school, 68 other school, 0.53 ratio.
-Number of friends is highly correlated with undergraduate status, as well as how long the account has been active.
-The act of providing information on one's profile is highly correlated with number of friends, most notably High School (92:35), AIM (100:50), Birthday (80:26), Favorite Music (83:37), and About Me (88:56). The first three aid in supporting pre-existing bonds, such as high school bonds, while the former provide information about one's identity to all users.
-There is a weak correlation between the AMOUNT of information in profiles and the number of friends. The researchers posit two possible explanations: either a user with many friends feels social pressure to include more information, or such a user includes more information while also seeking out more people to add as friends.

One of the main limitations described by the researchers is that their study focused on the behaviors of Facebook users, but not their attitudes toward or motivations behind these behaviors, and that they did not examine the content of profile fields, but rather the existence of them.

My examination of online social networking communities will be considerably less quantitative than many of the studies I have been reviewing. An emphasis on qualitative interviewing of SNC members (both face-to-face and online) will be a considerable benefit to the current research in this field.

The Age of Egocasting?

Rosen, a technology journalist, discusses emerging online community practices in terms of a modern-day process she has coined “egocasting”. She documents the recent history of communicative technologies, which allow individuals to control with increasing precision the information they consume. Popular contraptions such as TiVo and the iPod allow individuals the capacity to avoid the sounds, images, and ideas we don’t agree with. She warns of the potential of this power for crafting a culture that is profoundly impatient and critical of all that does not align with their ideologies of choice.

TiVos and iPods will never destroy us. But our romance with technologies of personalization has partially fulfilled Krutch’s prediction. We haven’t become more like machines. We’ve made the machines more like us. In the process we are encouraging the flourishing of some of our less attractive human tendencies: for passive spectacle; for constant, escapist fantasy; for excesses of consumption. These impulses are age-old, of course, but they are now fantastically easy to satisfy. Instead of attending a bear-baiting, we can TiVo the wrestling match. From the remote control to TiVo and iPod, we have crafted technologies that are superbly capable of giving us what we want. Our pleasure at exercising control over what we hear, what we see, and what we read is not intrinsically dangerous. But an unwillingness to recognize the potential excesses of this power—egocasting, fetishization, a vast cultural impatience, and the triumph of individual choice over all critical standards—is perilous indeed.

The parallels to online communities are cutting. Though our culture frequently heralds the globalizing force of technology, there are darker implications that this technology may allow use to blind ourselves entirely to ideas and information that contest our beliefs and challenge our comfortable notions of ourselves, others, and the world at large.

May 9, 2007

The Sociocultural Appropriation of Web 2.0?

I was notified via today of a new online startup by Daniel Pinchbeck (Technoshaman, Wesleyan dropout, and author of Breaking Open the Head and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl), Reality Sandwich. The site is to begin as an online magazine dedicated to the "re-imagining" of an intentional, international community of new-age shamans and neo-hippies. It is planned to evolve into an extensive, global social networking site. Among the first articles can be found discussions of the "ethnosphere", an interview with Abbie Hoffman, 21st century shamans, a "recipe for happiness" and an article about the practical application of digital utopian ideals in Web 2.0 communities:

My primary focus in blog will be the ongoing struggle to create an Internet that serves the public interest, one that incorporates the highest ideals that the evolution of web 2.0 points toward. I will watch the industry and I will watch the tech watchers and give you my honest perspective. I will tell you about companies that are doing good work and trying to improve things, and alert you to those that are being sneaky. In the same way as buying green produce supports and helps people make deeper changes in industry practices, we can vote with our on-line attention and dollars, giving our business to those online companies who put you in the middle of the picture.

Pinchbeck is a controversial figure in New Age discourse, and has been described by many as a modern-day Timothy Leary, though Terence McKenna is a more appropriate comparison. His ambitious goals to evolve the global consciousness through the appropriation of technology and communication practices is reminiscent of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog (see From Counterculture to Cyberculture, part 1 and part 2).

Implications for Research
Is this a new stage in the rise of digital utopianism? Are we witnessing the rise of technoshamanism? How does this New Age subculture find strength in global, online communities (such as Tribe)?

May 8, 2007

Lit Review: The Online Nomads of Cyberia

Based on fieldwork amongst a community of online gaming fans, Knorr argues that the field of anthropology is well-suited for the study of online communities as sites of sociocultural appropriation. The habitat of an online community is located within the Internet infrastructure, a dynamic space that utilizes multiple forms of mediated technology. Rather than limiting communication to the common shared interest, members of the group exchange gossip, create hierarchies, and establish new spaces for group interaction when older forms are obliterated. The community in question is described as a “nomadic tribe” that retains interpersonal structure regardless of geographic or even Internet space. The members of this community can best be described, not as consumers of technology, but as active creators of their online habitat. In this sense Internet communication technologies are reconstructed through a process of appropriation. So too are social networking communities appropriated as they are reworked to suit individual groups, as is the case in online activism and the geographical dispersion of subcultures.

May 3, 2007

Lit Review: Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Social Networks (The Facebook Case) (Gross & Acquisti)

The researchers conducted an analysis of over 4,000 college students using Facebook at Carnegie Mellon, utilizing the lens of information revelation and related privacy implications.
-Sought to examine the openness of individuals in revealing information (such as contact information, political and sexual orientation, and intimate details of one's personal life) freely posted in the public realm of the Internet.
-Collected actual field data, rather than surveys or experiments.

Information Revelation and Online Social Networking
1. Identifiability
-Varies according to the nature of the site, though most encourage identifiable photos.
2. Types of information elicited
-range from the semi-public to the private to entirely open-ended (diary communities).
3. Visibility of information
-Can be viewed by all members or limited to one's personal network.

-Anecdotal evidence reveals an utter willingness of members to reveal private information.
-Social Network Theory and Privacy: Discussions center on the complex nature of one's propensity to disclose personal information, the importance of weak ties in the formation of social capital, and expectations of privacy.
-In the offline world, relationships are dynamic and can exist at multiple levels of intimacy. Online, relationships are reduced to simply "friend or not".
-Though not necessarily supportive of strong ties, the Internet facilitates the formation of a large and dispersed network of weak ties.
-Situating the Internet as a vast network of rather weak ties, it has been described by some as an imagined community (Anderson), and thus the meaning of trust must be renegotiated, as well as the meaning of intimacy.
-The Internet slightly facilitates meaningful interaction while greatly enhancing the ability of others to access your information.
-Privacy Implications: Photos, demographic data, unique tastes may lead to a re-identification of an individual belonging to more than one SNC. This occurs either through recognition of a pseudonymous user by searching for this information, or knowledge of unknown characteristics of an identified subject on another site.
-Members are often not fully aware of a hosting site's privacy policies concerning information disclosure, or the magnitude of the site's user population and/or data archival.
-Risks include identity theft, stalking, embarrassment and blackmailing.
-Factors in information revelation include peer pressure, perceived benefits outweighing potential harm, casual attitudes regarding privacy, lack of awareness of threat, trust in the service and its members, or the SNC interface itself.
-College-oriented SNCs are often based on a shared real space that is extended to a bounded virtual domain.
-Increased sense of trust and intimacy, however outsider access and rapid network expansion quickly challenge the "realness" of the community and expectations of privacy.
-Photo: 91%; Birthday: 87.8%; Phone: 39.9%; Residence: 50.8%; Dating Preferences, Relationship Status, Religious and Political Views
-Facebook encourages validity of information and a valid e-mail address.
-->89% real names, 8% fake names, 3% first name only
-->91% provide images: 61% directly identifiable, 80% useful for identification, 12% unrelated - in comparison to Friendster: 23% joke images, 55% directly identifiable
-->CMU students average 78.2 friends at CMU and 54.9 at other schools
Data Visibility and Privacy Preferences: Default settings allow everyone at same institution to view full profile, and full name/institution/status/photo show up in any general search. However, visibility and searchability are able to be defined by the individual user. Less than 3% of users alter their privacy settings.

Privacy Implications
-Facebook users appear generally unconcerned about information disclosure and potential ramifications.
1. Stalking: Physical presence can be determined based on location and class schedule; AIM (listed by 77.7% of users).
2. Re-Identification: the linkage of non-explicit information (name, address) with explicit information (common attributes). This can be based on demographics (all one needs is zip code, gender, and birthdate- provided by 44.3% of users), face (provided by 55.4%), social security number and identity theft (birthdate, residence, phone number)
3. Building a Digital Dossier: Sensitive data revealed in college, such as sexual orientation and political reviews, is archived and can potentially be mined in the future.
4. Fragile Privacy Protection: Social networks can be hacked! E-mail addresses can be hacked, manipulation of users (when 250,000 users were sent a friend request, 30% were willing to make all of their information available by accepting), advanced search features are available to anyone in the network looking to search for someone at any college

This article is slightly dated (2005), and concerns over privacy on the Internet have since grown exponentially due to media dramatization and new features implemented by Facebook (namely, the News Feed, which encouraged many to finally implement some of the privacy options made available to users). A simple survey tapping into perceived privacy, protective behaviors, and perceived audience would be easy to implement- Facebook does make recruiting participants a lot easier! Also, Facebook has since updated their privacy policy- a little highlighted review:

We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile. Where such information is used, we generally allow you to specify in your privacy settings that you do not want this to be done or to take other actions that limit the connection of this information to your profile (e.g., removing photo tag links).

We do not provide contact information to third party marketers without your permission. We share your information with third parties only in limited circumstances where we believe such sharing is 1) reasonably necessary to offer the service, 2) legally required or, 3) permitted by you.

We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies.

If the ownership of all or substantially all of the Facebook business, or individual business units owned by Facebook, Inc., were to change, your user information may be transferred to the new owner so the service can continue operations.

Individuals who wish to deactivate their Facebook account may do so on the My Account page. Removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time but will not be generally available to members of Facebook.

May 2, 2007

Lit Review: Unraveling the Taste Fabrics of Social Networks (Liu, Maes & Davenport)

-Sought to uncover a semantic fabric of taste derived from the language used in 100,000 social networking profiles, dubbed the social Semantic Web.
-First mapped users onto taste-spaces, then compared the taste-similarities of participants.
-Moving away from formal semantics toward implicit and emergent semantics that are organized from the bottom up- folksonomies that include taste neighborhoods, identity hubs, and taste cliques.

Theoretical Background
1. Authentic Identity and Aesthetic Closure
-Contemporary culture is marked by consumeption preferences of diverse demographic categories- a culture of plenitude, in which identities are described using the vocabulary of preferences (McCracken).
-Simmel: the individual is born as an unidentified contents that evolves into identified forms, a truly authentic identity.
-Lacan: the self is a mediated construction in the Other (supported by the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and feminism)
-Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton: consolidates the above two theories- an individual's "symbolic environment" both echoes and reinforces her identity. This is the framework from within which this study works.
-Aesthetic Closure: when an individual's interest can be regarded as unified, interconnected, sharing a common aethetic.
-Diderot Unity: the compulsion of consumers for consistency, to like that which we consume in a consistent and unified manner- provides support for aesthetic closure.

2. Upper Bounds on Theoretical Ideal
The above theory is problematized by a number of factors:
-Goffman's theory that performance is inherent in socialization- we all wear different masks depending on the social context. Identities are viewed as multiplicitous- online profiles provide only a single flat view.
-boyd's theory that, because profiles may be viewed by myriad social circles, the individual is forced to take such publicity in account, resulting in self-censorship.
-boyd also points out profiles are often abandoned over time, resulting in static representations/artifacts of past identity performance.

3. Identity Keywords vs. Interest Keywords
-Examined both broad interests as well as special interests (such as cultural identities).
-Special Interests are usually placed at the top of profiles, while more specific interests are listed later on. The former is used to place individuals into categories, while the latter serve as more detailed descriptors.

Weaving the Taste Fabric
-A single crawl of two SNCs mined information from 100,000 profiles.
-To preserve anonymity, only the text of descriptors was used.
-Because language fragments are often used in specific categories, 90% of them were successfully segmented.
-In the case of general interests, about 75% were successfully segmented, as they often contained more idiosyncratic speech.
-Descriptors were then coded in order to create a common language of categories using sources such as wikipedia's article on subcultures, IMDB, AllMusic, AllRecipes, etc;
-21,000 interest descriptors and 1,000 identity descriptors coded.
-Correlation analysis was then conducted via numeric strength of semantic relatedness.
-Identity Hubs: One's location in the fabric is described in terms of proximity to the various identity hubs, which serve as an index of identities.
-Taste Cliques: cliques of interest based on taste- for instance, "Soccer," "Manu Chao", "tapas" and "Samba Music" would be an example of a Latin taste clique.
-Taste Neighborhoods: larger, more permanent taste cohesions

What is a Taste Fabric Good For?
-InterestMap: taste-based recommendation system- an interactive map where users can input descriptors and receive recommendations based on a navigatable map of descriptors
-Ambient Semantics: facilitates interaction between two strangers who share taste.
-IdentityMirror: makes identity self-management possible
-A dynamic model of taste would take context into account- current events, location


One of the implications I derived from this article was the potential for the creation of true interest-based communities that are capable of a radical clarification and reconfiguration of the networked individual. How addictive it would be, I imagine, to have a system before you powerful enough to know what you like before you're even aware that you did. Oh yeah, check this out:

Pentagon to Merge Next-Gen Binoculars With Soldiers' Brains

'Sup, Big Bro?

Lit Review: An Evaluation of Identity-Sharing Behavior in Social Network Communities (Stutzman)

-Though academic institutions have been working to protect student identities, their work is increasingly being undermined by social networking communities (SNCs).
-The goals of this study were twofold: obtaining quantitative data about SNC participation on college campuses, and analyzing member attitudes pertaining to SNC participation and online identity sharing. This data was gathered from the perspective of an outsider to these communities.
-A random survey of 200 students (38 of whom responded) inquired about the specifics of their involvement in SNCs as well as their feelings regarding online identity sharing. The researcher then created a disclosure matrix for each participant by examining the data made available in their SNC profiles.
-Limitations: Small sample size, internet survey may be biased toward the tech-savvy, outsider status, lexical differences in coding identity elements of the SNCs (favorite movies, sexual orientation, academic status, etc;).

-71% involvement in SNCs: 90% of undergrads, 44% of grads.
-Most popular was Facebook (90% of undergrads), followed by Friendster and MySpace.
-Though participants expressed doubt that their identity information was protected online (2.66 on a 5-point Likert scale), they were nevertheless okay with friends accessing this information (4.55), but markedly less so with strangers (3.15).
-Information of particular interest: location, sexual orientation, political status
-Urges discussion of new identity disclosure threats posed by SNCs.


The very small sample size of this study makes it almost entirely worthless to review, but it is worth noting that academic institutions are working to protect the identities of their students. In another vein, the enormous discrepency between SNC participation by undergrads and that of graduate students suggest that the undergaduate community may possess certain qualities or needs that SNCs fulfill, such as maintaining high school ties.

Seeing as identity disclosure would seem to be a pertinent issue, it would be interesting to reassess users' feelings on the matter now that SNCs have become both mainstream and problematized by media discourse. How is "stalking" defined (it is a commonly used term in Facebook discourse)? What sort of activities and degree of involvement are deemed acceptable by today's norms?

Lit Review: Rhythms of Social Interaction: Messaging Within a Massive Online Network

-Extensive empirical analysis of 362 million message sent by 4.2 million Facebook users over a 26 month period.
-Results found a temporal rhythm that extended across campuses and seasons.
-Nearly all communication occurred between a small proportion of "friends".
-Social Network Research: how people make friends, number of friends, and forms of social support.
-Their understanding of the Poke: Users can ascribe whatever meaning in the context of their relationship to the poker or pokee; described as a "virtual intimate object", an active meaningful social gesture that necessitates reciprocity. Such a situation is a marker of a strong social bond.
-The privacy inherent in messaging/poking frees the act from the pressure of self-presentation.

-Average of about 180 friends per user.
-About half of messages sent to friends at same school, 41% to friends at another school.
-Strangely, over 98% of pokes were sent between people from the same school.
-Reciprocity of messages occurs 59% of the time if senders are at the same school, but only 41% of the time if the sender is from a different school.
-Messaging/poking highest at the beginning of the week, declining drastically Friday and Saturday.
-The rhythm of activity differs from that of a corporate network, where most activity takes place during working hours.
-Trend of messages sent to those at different schools during the daytime, to nonfriends in the same school during the late-night hours.
-No change in rhythm, even during the summer, with the exception of a dramatic increase in messages sent to school friends during school break times.
-Different universities consistantly show either a disproportionately large or disproportionally small number of Facebookers who are active during the weekend.

-Concludes that internet sociality is an activity that frequently occurs alongside work-related tasks rather than as a leisure activity in and of itself.
-Though messages are sent primarily to friends, most friends do not receive messages. What does this say about the strength of Facebook "friend" ties?
-Seasonal variation in same/different school messaging demonstrates the importance of Facebook in supporting geographically distant relationships.


Not sure about the importance of this bit of research (though it could serve useful as a statistical supplement), however it was interesting to discover that such an intensive statistical analysis has been conducted on Facebook. With all the information available on the site, a vast array of studies concerning Internet activity could be conducted, as well as looking at the relationships between group memberships, interests, demographics (political and sexual orientation, gender, "looking for", religion) etc; The study would probably have been much more interesting had they focused on wall posts, the most active form of Facebook communication by far.

Lit Review: Digital Relationships in the ‘MySpace’ Generation: Results From a Qualitative Study (Dwyer)

A qualitative study of online social networking sites and instant messaging.

-CMC reduces the exchange of social context cues, affecting perceptions of truthfulness, interpretation and response to messages, and the formation of impressions.
--Social Information Processing Model (Walther): CMC relies on paralinguistics, slowing the rate at which social cues are received.
-Impression Management (Goffman): The subtle process of controlling another's perception of something by managing the information exchanged in a social interaction. When that something is one's own identity, it is referred to as self-presentation. We interpret others through inference of their roles, derived from the information they or others present to us.
-Social-Technical Gap: The space between what technology can support and what actually happens in the social world.

The Study
-Examined the use of technology to manage relationships, and the ways in which these technologies mediate behaviors pertaining to the management of these relationships.
-The semi-structured interview designed inquired about self-presentation/impression management, pros and cons of these systems, usage and dependency for social communication. It also probed participants for information on how they used the tools provided by this systems in developing new relationships, restricting access, and responding to negative events. Expectations of privacy were also investigated, pertaining to what individuals felt comfortable with sharing and why.
-Interviews were conducted by 6 undergraduates, who interviewed a total of 19 college-aged participants. The transcripts were content-analyzed and coded.
-Participants reported heavy use of communication technologies, heralding their low cost, entertainment value, and convenience.
-Profiles provide the opportunity for impression management. Authenticity plays a large role here- profiles that appear (or are known to be) false or contrived trigger a very negative impression. However, they also discussed the need to create a "cool" persona and intense awareness of how others would perceive their self-presentations. Nevertheless, the act of constructing one's profile was generally considered a fun, entertaining activity.
-As one participant put it, "The defining characteristic of social networking sites is extreme impersonality. The people that one talks to on these sites are not treated as other human beings. They appear more like characters in a story."
-Though privacy concerns have been well-documented, the participants expressed general apathy, countering that they as members are responsible for the content and management of their virtual personas.
-Acknowledged that relationships formed online are superficial in nature.
-General enjoyment of these systems' ability to maintain bonds with those one doesn't see every day, as well as reunite one with old friends.
-Instant Messenger Away Messages: A user is able to monitor others while behind the "barrier" of the away message.
-Comfort level increased as the degree of their own anonymity rose, decreased with the anonymity of others.

Communication technology features (profile, visibility, and identity management) enable interpersonal relationship management (forming new relationships, maintaining existing relationships), which is in turn influenced by individual attitudes (impression management, concern for information privacy).

Questions Raised
How is impression management carried out within CMC?
How to explain the apparent contradiction between privacy concerns and the overwhelming popularity of social networking sites?


Individuals are fluid, not static, and in the act of creating a profile of the self one undergoes a strangely simplified process of impression management. I would like to examine the paralanguage of Internet communities, the ways in which social cues are subtly communicated, as well as the complex ways in which impression management is enacted.

Lit Review: Personal Relationships: On and Off the Internet (Boase & Wellman)

From Computer-Mediated Small Groups to the Internet
-The authors surmise that we are experiencing an era of "networked individualism", shifting from tight-knit, geographically local communities to dispersed, sparsely-knit personal networks.
-Past research on computer-mediated communication (CMC) failed to situate CMC within broader social contexts.
-Past research demonstrates that, thus far, the Internet has had no salient destructive or radical effect on society.

The Social Affordances of the Internet

-supports a greater number of geographically dispersed interactions.
-asynchronous: these interactions can occur between those with very different temporal rhythms.
-rapidity: increased velocity of interpersonal exchange.
-reduced social presence may lessen commitment, complexity, and/or strength of virtual bonds.
-textuality: reduces image-based hierarchies, such as race and class.
-absence of direct feedback --> increased likelihood for flaming.
-societal connectivity: transitive, indirect contact facilitated in a manner that often crosses group boundaries.
-mass messaging: allows contact with multiple social circles.
-HOWEVER, often social networks do not interact, and information diffuses quickly.

Utopianism and Dystopianism
-Utopianism represented by the transformative ideals of Barlow, McLuhan, and others.
-Dystopians warned of the isolating and alienating potential of the Internet, warning ominously of societal decline (Kroker & Weinstein, Stoll) and fractured identities (Turkle).
-Both views are overly simplistic, lacking ethnographic and empirical data.
-Technological Determinism: Attributing causal effects to the technology rather than the way in which people choose to utilize it. For instance, the Internet was the effect rather than the cause of the desire for distant communication.

Contact With Friends and Family- Online and Off
-Though early findings demonstrated negative effects of Internet use, later findings uncovered that Internet use is inextricably tied to one's preexisting personality characteristics (Kraut).
-Other studies used time diaries to examine the everyday practices and effects of Internet use in comparison to offline interaction and found little to no causal relationship (various studies by Katz).
-Evidence exists that demonstrates the correlation between using the Internet to meet new people and decreased TV watching (Kraut, Kiesler, Boneva, & Shklovski).
-The needs of the individual must be examined as causally affecting the everyday usages of the Internet.

Forming Relationships Online
-Research has shown that only a very small percentage of Internet users have formed new relationships online (Katz).
-The Internet serves as an important tool for forming relationships for those who are physically or psychologically disadvantaged, including those with very low self-image (McKenna).
-Often, most users who form relationships online eventually express the desire to meet offline.

Neighboring and the Internet
-A study by Hampton and Wellman on a networked Toronto suburb, "Netville" demonstrated an increase in neighborhood contact, offline visits, and neighborhood ties. Furthermore, the networked residents showed an increase in contact with geographically distant social bonds. The combination of these two effects is defined by the researcher as "glocalization".

Towards a Theory of Networked Individualism
-Since the Industrial Revolution and the rise of mass transit and telecommunications, there has been a shift in social relations that Wellman coins "networked individualism".
-Networked Individualism:
1. Both local and long distance relationships:
Most likely, individuals virtually interact with those they are close to, but just far away from that it is inconvenient to visit.
2. Sparsely-knit personal networks that include densely-knit groups:
Ease in coordinating group events through mass messaging; direct and autonomous nature of the Internet helps one to maintain a large network of contacts with relatively little work.
3. Relationships more easily formed and abandoned:
In this era of mobility and frequent change in environment, CMC helps people stay in touch with those they've left behind. Additionally, the Internet may aid the sociality of those who have trouble forming relationships offline. It also aids in neighborhood connectivity, as demonstrated by the Netville study.
4. Many relationships with people from different social backgrounds:
Devoid of many of the social cues implicit in offline interactions, the Internet facilitates the formation of relationships between individuals of differing backgrounds.
5. Few strong ties and many weak ones:
The asynchronous nature of the Internet means that interactions need not take place in the same space at the same time. This can be an asset in everyday activities (such as shopping) that involve coordination with strong ties, for communicating in a way that lacks intrusion or disruption. Weak ties can be more easily maintained as well, allowing for affirmation of a connection to even the most geographically distant acquaintance.

In conclusion, the authors point to a need to examine the psychological effects of networked individualism, such as information overload and dissatisfaction or, more positively, cognitive flexibility, social tolerance, and increased knowledge.


This paper was published in 2004, around the time online social networking services were becoming mainstream in popularity, and before the advent of social media services such as YouTube. It focuses primarily on e-mail as a form of CMC. Examining society's relationship to the Internet in general, the authors are a bit too empirical and generalistic for my taste.

In developing surveys regarding interaction in online social networks, it would be interesting to examine a subpopulation of those who have recently transitioned into a new environment (such as college alumni) and their use of these tools in maintaining important social ties. How useful and satisfying is this medium? Furthermore, does the Internet actually facilitate group formation, or are these group memberships illusory in nature (serving the purpose of identity development and performance)?

May 1, 2007

Lit Review: Trust in Electronic Environments (Chopra & Wallace)

The article examines the widely dispersed literature on trust with regard to information technologies. Trust is considered a crucial element with regard to social capital, and exists on four levels: the individual (psychological), the interpersonal (one to another), the relational (social glue), and the societal (functioning). The authors put forth a unified definition of trust as "the willingness to rely on a specific other, based on confidence that one's trust will lead to positive outcomes (3)."

When an individual possesses uncertainty or vulnerability in a particular domain, she may seek a dependent relationship with that which one is confident can fulfill that particular need, and this often entails risk on the part of the vulnerable individual. Systems trust (and here we bring the Internet into play) necessitates the establishment of social norms shared by other trusting individuals.

Trustworthiness is defined along four dimensions: competence and credibility, positive intentions, ethics, and predictability/consistency.

There are multiple processes invoked in the development of trust:
-prediction based on past behavior.
-intentionality of the trustee.
-emotional bonding and reciprocity of trust.
-reputation or institutional trust established through the trust of others.
-identification with the trustee (shared goals/values)

Four domains of trust are important in virtual environments:
1. Trustworthiness of information on the Internet.
-Users in need of information place themselves at risk for potential inaccuracy of information viewed. Factors at work include accuracy, bias, methodology, stability (of website address, currency), and validity.
2. Trustworthiness of the information/computing systems themselves.
-This includes interpersonal trust in one's own system as well as societal trust in network structures. One's emotional attitude, or technological bias, toward technology (technophilia/technophobia) is a crucial factor.
3. Trustworthiness of the economic stability of e-commerce.
-Both the buyer and the seller take risks. Reputation hinders on offline reputation and/or online ratings.
4. Trustworthiness of the individuals with whom one interacts in virtual environments.
-Motivations include information, friendship, or simply entertainment, and the truster has the authority to sever the relationship in case of fraudulent identity, abuse, or harassment. One's propensity to trust in this situation is highly dependent on one's technological bias, disposition, referrals, and the context of the relationship.

Computer technology challenges traditional notions of personhood, as machines increasingly take on roles and duties once assigned to people. Thus, it is apparent that trust plays a role in the relationship between human and computer in much the same way as in interpersonal relationships.

Social capital will be a central issue of discussion in my ensuing ethnography, and trust (as well as reciprocity and shared values and norms) is a crucial element.

MySpace: Little trust amongst generations outside the MySpace generation (today's teenagers), however a great deal of trust within that generation due to established cultural norms of participation in the community. Trust on MySpace is diminished by the proliferation of fraudulant identities and predatorial behavior, the finicky nature of the site, censorship, and the popular reputation I have just summated.

Facebook: High degree of trust in other users in one's network, who are usually preexisting relationships. However, growing wariness in the corporation itself due to the enormous amount of data that is collected and recorded and legal reprecussions to naive assumptions of privacy. Its quickly evolving nature, as well as its mass popularization (thus losing its niche identity) have led many to become suspicious of the intentions of the site.

Tribe: Very high degree of trust due to Tribe's subcultural history (as evidenced by its enormous popularity in the San Francisco Bay area). A haven for free speech, Tribe is also locally-based. Furthermore, many of Tribe's users possess shared cultural and social values (such as neotribalism). Users form tribes that often extend to the offline world, and vice versa.

Very high degree of trust, though few strong ties. What ties do exist are based around common interests (such as music genre or production tools) as well as reputation (established through rankings, popularity, degree of involvement on the site). SoundClick's niche audience authenticates the site, gives it legitimacy, and its users are able to share information with disparate others interested in the same thing (shared values and goals... globalizing potential).

April 28, 2007

Lit Review: From Counterculture to Cyberculture (cont.)

Chapter 2: Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture
-In the era of the Beat generation and the Merry Pranksters, the social ideals of the New Communalists and the products of the Cold War technocracy were merged in the San Francisco LSD scene. Trips Festivals created spaces in which the technological and the social came together in ecstatic communal experiences marked by lights, images, and music brought about through electronic media, as well as LSD. These experiences integrated those who attended into a single techno-biological system:

Far from asserting direct control over events, he [Brand] had built an environment, a happening, a laboratory. He had set forth the conditions under which a system might evolve and flower, and he had stocked the biological and social worlds of those who entered that system with technologies that allowed them to feel as though the boundaries between the social and the biological, between their minds and their bodies, and between themselves and their friends, were highly permeable. He had helped found a new tribe of technology-loving Indians, artistic engineers of the self.


Chapter 3: The Whole Earth Catalog as Information Technology
-Brand's desire to merge systems theory and New Communalist politics resulted in the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog, a disperse project offering products such as books, camping gear, and blueprints for houses and machines for those migrating to form communes in the hills of New Mexico and Colorado.
-The Catalog reflected both the technological and scientific achievements of the time as well as the acid-drenched, Eastern religion-inspired hippie movement. In addition, the contributions of its readers established a network forum enhanced by mobility between several countercultural, academic, and technological communities.
-Collaboration of disparate, disembodied communities, small-scale personal and informational technology that supported the development of individual consciousness and ecstatic communion.

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory- as via government, big business, formal education, church- has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing- power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog (Brand, inside cover of the Catalog).


In comparing the Whole Earth Catalog to current Internet culture, the following snippets are particularly of note:
-both a reflection of and a doorway to the world
-nomadic technocratism
-interactive elements increase commitment, as well as involvement.
-by publishing financial accounts, Whole Earth was also viewed as "open source"
-appropriation by the subculture(s) for the purposes of transformation of the superculture- does this succeed? Dominated by white, affluent, educated population...

The Rise of Digital Utopianism: Implications for Analysis

Barlow, an information technology journalist and pundit, was also once a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Following an international summit in which the Communications Decency Act was passed, which sought to restrict pornography on the Internet, he crafted a treatise in defense of the independence of the Internet from bureaucratic attempts at regulation. This essay, which was posted and widely circulated on the Internet, suggested that the Internet allowed for the possibility of a social revolution. Barlow painted a picture of a world in which the oppressive forces of the government were replaced by the pursuit of individual enlightenment, communality, and collective consciousness.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

Barlow’s work in collaboration with Wired magazine established a movement inspired by an ideology of digital utopianism. In what ways has this ideology integrated into the public consciousness? In my own research on online social networking communities, I would like to examine how these sites contribute to as well as diminish the creation of a “digital utopia”.

April 26, 2007

Lit Review: From Counterculture to Cyberculture (Fred Turner)

Chapter 1: The Shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor
-Sacio and the Free Speech Movement of the 60s opposed the mechanization of society through the guise of the university, the military, and information technologies.
-30 years later, what was once a threat was now a promise of liberation, expressed through the evolving personalization of the Internet.
-Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in proclamation of the liberating nature of the Internet for overthrowing the bureaucracy. Social revolution?
-Esther Dyson believed that the Internet would become a digital marketplace that would allow consumers and corporations to negotiate equally, thus dissolving the tyranny of corporate hierarchies (Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age).
-Kevin Kelly believed we were moving toward a "computational metaphor" in human understanding, in which the universe is a computer according to a new vocabulary that is now emerging.
-Disembodiment: dehumanization or equality?

The Forgotten Openness of the Closed World
-Post WWII era was dominated by a "closed world discourse", in which both the individual mind and the military were viewed as mechanized tools of control- cognitive psychology began utilizing the computational metaphor to describe the human brain, and in the military plans and operations were visually rendered through computer programming.
-Though this mechanization of society is exactly what students of the 60's rebelled against, at the time this discourse allowed for a quite flexible and creative style of research. This led to the rise of the military industrial complex and interdisciplinary collaboration.
-In the pursuit of military technology, scientists and researchers from many disciplines devised a new language with which to communicate.

-Humans and machines in collaboration within a larger, fluid socio-technical system- a "feedback system" that was then extended to human biology and society.
-This led to the deveopment of cybernetics (Norbert Wiener)- "the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society".
-In this frame, the media is viewed as a "servomechanism" that maintains the homeostasis of society through a feedback system of messages.
-Though computers threatened automation of people and society, they also brought hope for the possibility of a more democratic creation of order.

The Countercultural Embrace of Technology and Consciousness

-In the eyes of the left, the computational metaphor was one designed to create and maintain an unfeeling "technocracy" (Roszak).
-Lewis Mumford's The Myth of the Machine envisioned a world in which the technocratic elite are bent on designing man as an automaton whose proper functions will be controlled by the machine.
-In the postwar period, thanks in large part to research grants funded by the military, university enrollment exploded.
-Two forms of counterculture emerged in the 1960's: the New Left, which struggled for civil rights, free speech and voter registration (outward political action); and cold war-era culture marked by Zen Buddhism, Beat writings, action painting, and psychedelic drugs (inward consciousness and communalism).
-The New Communalists, contrary to the New Left, embraced the communal and egalitarian potential of cybernetics.
The New Left worked within the political structure in order to achieve their goals of establishing a true community and ending alienation. The New Communalists, however, believed political activism to be beside the point- that true community existed outside of traditional notions of chains of command. True community was to be found when transcendence from "the myth of objective consciousness" was achieved, and individual selves transformed.
-Charles Reich's The Greening of America detailed 3 historical stages of socioeconomic consciousness:
1. agriculture: farmers and small businessmen
2. industrial bureaucracies: society organized through complex organizations and new technologies of control and communication.
3. beaureaucratically levelled communities: harmonious collaborations working to end technocratic institutions.
-In this vein, if the mind is to be the source of change, then the sharing of information is a crucial step in that process- an "ebb and flow of communication".


This well explains the history of perceptions regarding information technologies. With this history in mind, it would be interesting to gauge the current perception of the Internet as it becomes increasingly a site for both interactivity/communication/community-building and corporate schemas, economically entrenched but intellectually dispersed.

On one end we have open source collaboration, but on the other we have the rise of a hegemonic Google institution. Somewhere in the middle lie social networking services such as Facebook and Myspace. In the ephemeral space of the Internet, however, time and power work together to allow for immediate collective awareness and consequent action. The trick is in the hook- for instance, Facebook alienated its users with the implementation of the News Feed, to the extent that its users collectively organized in protest. However, this collective organization would not have been possible WITHOUT Facebook, and in this way they are institutionalized. This happens when certain Internet systems become integrated in the daily functioning of individuals in society. To disengage from these systems would be to disengage with a symbolic structure of one's membership in her community.

If we are to examine Internet culture through the lens of Reich, it would seem we exist still in the second level of consciousness. If a counterculture exists on the Internet, it could do so in two ways: by utilizing the existing social institutions of the Internet to spread awareness and make political statements, or to abandon the existing institutions altogether in favor of a back-to-cyberspace approach of creating communal sites in which individuals work to raise their own consciousnesses and fulfill their human potentials.

April 18, 2007

Lit Review: Managing Visibility, Intimacy, and Focus in Online Critical Ethnography (LeBesco)

Focus: Studying communication about fat identification (on the Internet).

Method: Downloaded posts and threads, participated in the community, made community aware of her status as researcher.

Theory: Critical ethnographic approach that sought to challenge mainstream political and social discourse about fat bodies.

Points of Consideration: Changes in embodiment allowed for by the use of technology; alternative model of personhood (observing communicative processes and social interaction, as opposed to individualistic narratives); the "cybernetic shape of information technologies" as a political arena.

Questions Raised: How are bodies and identities "policed" in internet forums? How does the design of Internet space affect deployments of power?


Many of those with whom I've discussed the political and cultural potential of the internet believe that the lack of face-to-face interaction renders individuals essentially isolated. However, is it not possible that meaning can be created irrespective of time and space? That you or I could psychically connect through the sharing of information and ideas across immense distances?

Identity projection, or "egocasting" (see Christine Rosen), allows for an enormous amount of social creativity and identity play. In this arena, the body exists apart from the mind- a condition which may be extraordinarily appealing for those who undergo consistent prejudice and discrimination instigated by their physical forms.

Facebook Play

From allusions to illusions, fakery to forgery, Facebook is an arena for social performative play. One would do well to ensure the secrecy of one's password and to log out with consistency, because you (yes you!) could be the next victim of identity appropriation and warping of the most embarassing variety.

This subject comes to mind in light of today's Facebook experiences: a high school friend of mine had suddenly become a black lesbian. Also, it was apparently her birthday, and in the hour or two it took for her to realize what had occurred, several friends had posted somewhat confused birthday greetings on her wall.

This is not the first time I have witnessed this particular form of public humiliation. You have been warned.

It could happen to you.

April 17, 2007

Lit Review: Technological Environments and the Evolution of Social Research Methods (Christians & Chen)

-From Newton --> Shannon and Weaver's The Mathematical Theory of Communication
-Carl Couch: Audio and video recording of human interactions.

Internet Research Pros:
-24-hour, instantaneous access.
-Massive sampling possibilities.
-Ability to pinpoint special interest groups
-Logs of conversations.

Issues in Internet Research:
-the bias of technology: what are the optimum qualities, and in what cases is the Internet less advantageous than other media?
-the technological imperative: tendency to allow Internet technology to monopolize other forms, yet this technology could not exist with the others.

Media of communication are vast social metaphors that not only transmit information but determine what is knowledge, that not only orient us to the world but tell us what kind of world exists.

-Marshall McLuhan

-organic communities: electronic culture dislocats us from space and history. Lacking acoustical symbols, assured markers of identity, and its dependence on the offline world, the online "world" cannot be one of its own making, per se.


I would argue that online environments can indeed be historically situated, and that we are in the midst of crafting a virtual world that will come to allow for extensive and imaginative identity play. However, what is often observed online is not the creation but rather the extension of real-world phenomena. In what ways are new forms of communication and community-building being created in virtual environments (cultural appropriation, network-bridging, etc;)?

April 15, 2007

Lit Review: "Seeing and Sensing" Online Interaction: An Interpretive Interactionist Approach to USENET Support Group Research (Walstrom)

A third-person observation cannot uncover the invisible bonds of connection that motivate people to interact with and feel responsible toward one another, particularly in sensitive cases in which anonymity can provide the comfort needed to become uninhibited with others, such as support groups. Traditional ethnographic methods may work for some online groups, but an interpretive interactive approach of forming an emotional connection to the participant may be essential to understanding her processes of sense-making.

In this study, the researcher was obliged to also have undergone the experiences of those in specific support groups, allowing both a third- and second-person position (analyst and participant-experiencer). Her own participation in an eating disorders support group yielded three central tenets: the formation of a public, group narrative to serve as a collective resource, discursive practices such as politeness to serve as protection of individual/group face, and the co-construction of eating disorder identities.

Social Constructionism: "the self-other dimension of interaction"- all cultural meanings are co-constructed.

Rhetorical-responsive Approach: Seeking understandings of "living utterances"

Interpretive Interactionism: Attending to the everyday experiences (feelings, actions, meanings) of interacting individuals.
-Researchers must make interpretive processes as public as they can, as well as the multiple methods employed.
-Micro-level: Local meanings to illuminate the inner lives of partipcipants.
-Macro-level: Connecting these micro-lvel findings to the poicies or institutions that can affect them.
-Rejects generalizations, positivism

In this study, the mainstream discourse of objectifying, pathologizing, and trivializing the experience of those suffering from eating disorders is problematized by fully representing the visceral experiences, competencies, and emotions through an interpretive interactionist approach. The approach was also feminist in nature, contesting the scientific discourse for its inability to recognize the authority of women in describing their own experiences. This merging of methodological approaches enhances the rigor by expanding the scope of inquiry into shared experiences.

Grounded Theory: Locating a core category for organizing the vast numbers of responses generated by a group and coding the actions and experiences in written accounts. For example- a category used in this study was the frequent and systematic tendency to personify the eating disorders ("the monster within"). This tendency can be invoked in a variety of situations, which were also coded (eg; introduction, ephiphany, cry for help). Can reveal much about the co-construction of identity.

Conversational Analysis: Noting what is displayed as salient in the structure of one's talk. Some things that are examined are the rules governing turn-taking, normative responses, use of genre (public narrative)

Discourse Analysis: Includes critical discourse analysis- critique of the hegemonic and institutional forces at work in local interactions. Also self-other positionings, responses to emotionally-charged displays.

Online Interpretive Interactionist Approach
-Self-presentation at introduction of link to group, sharing the dilemma/discourse.
-A feminist communitarian approach reflects the researcher's shared emotionality with paritcipants, research that will make a difference.
-Benefits: 1. representing participants' own voices validated their perspective, 2. thick description of shared problematic experiences enhances self-understandings, 3. critique of dominant discourses that affect the participants' potential for change.


Unlike this study, I am not seeking to uncover particularly sensitive issues. I am interested, however, in the formation of relationships with participants in order to understand more empathically, as well as challenge dominant discourses (such as predator threats, grand delusions of privacy, inability for computer-mediated communication to evoke tangible responses/form true social bonds, meeting of strangers, etc;). It will be important to examine the priority that individuals themselves place on online interactions, thus the first segment of my methodology will involve asking participants to articulate their own experiences in written accounts (through internet-based surveys). The accumulation of a large quantity of written data will serve my aim in categorizing experiences through the lens of public narratives and shared emotional displays.

Also, rather than "recruiting" subjects, I will be posting information about the study, as well as a link to the online survey(s) on public message forums, through which individuals will be self-motivated to participate. In addition, I will be evoking an interactionist approach through engagement with others in public dialogue spaces, such as message boards and group forums.