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What is and what is not a Social Networking site?

Rod Munday | Friday May 01, 2009

Categories: Other Topics, Social Networking, Defining Social Networks

The terms “social network site” or “social networking sites” are often used interchangeably and will be in this document. An online social network site is conceived as a new technological phenomenon, which is grounded on the idea of offline social networking. In modern times, offline social networks exists primarily in places such as homes, neighbourhoods, schools and offices. Wellman (1996) defines offline social networks as ‘relations among people who deem other network members to be important or relevant to them in some way’  (quoted in Lange 2007).

In the online sense, social networking can be thought of as activities such as chatting, blogging, exchanging information and sharing media such as music, pictures and video (Mitchell & Reid-Walsh 2008. 543). However, as some of these activities are also characteristics of chatrooms and webpages (websites that do not have a strong social networking component) there needs to be a way of narrowing down this definition, in order to capture what is truly distinctive about sites like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. This is what Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison (2007) attempted to do. According to them social network sites can be defined in terms of two main factors:

1.People not content

The first is that online social networks are primarily organized around people and not content. This is in complete contrast to newsgroups, bulletin boards, websites, etc. whose communities grew up around shared interests or activities (content not people) (quoted Lister et al. 2009, 216).

2. Real friends not virtual friends

The second factor is that online social networks are usually made up of people who are already part of a person’s offline social network. The average social network user tends to join a social networking site to keep in touch with friends they already know, rather than make new friends online (Boyd & Ellison 2007). In a survey 89% of users said that they used social network sites...


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