Boyd on Class & Social Network Choice

Danah Boyd is pondering some of the rich, loamy stuff she’s uncovering in her long ethnographic study of young people and social networks.

She’s finding signs that there’s a growing social class/standing divide between Facebook and MySpace among high-school-age kids, and she’s wrestling with precisely what that means.

Thankfully, before waiting until it’s all been strained of all personality and doubt and pinned to wax as an official “paper,” she’s putting her neck out there and sharing some of the ideas she’s struggling with. You know, starting conversations, asking for feedback.

Of course, lots of people don’t get it. The BBC posted a story about it as if it were a University-vetted “study” — and it’s getting slashdotted and everything, which is bringing tons of people to the blog/essay who don’t understand ethnographic methods, or her approach to social sharing.

But, all that aside, it’s a fascinating post in itself.

The “blog essay” itself is on her site at danah.org. And the regular blog post where she explains it and is collecting comments from the public is on her blog at zephoria.org.

It’s especially interesting to read through these comments. Of course, as I said, lots of people seem uncomfortable with qualitative, raw, conversational research-analysis-in-formation. There are also some who, in their snooty disdain for MySpace and what they see there, unwittingly prove Boyd’s point to a degree.

What a lot of commenters bring up is that there are important differences between these two social engines that may cause some of the results Boyd is seeing. For example, while MySpace allows a user to create an anonymous account and connect to anyone they want, Facebook requires you to be “yourself” on the site, and allows connections only through referrals or pre-existing offline relation (such as being from the same school).
here are other, more subtle rules-based structural differences discussed throughout.

To me, this is central to what information architecture (at least as I see it) is all about: creating structures (whether categories of content or logical rules for what can and can’t be done and how) to channel people in particular ways.

I mean not so much the tabs/categories/taxonomy but the rules-based structures: who can friend whom; whether or not you can use a pseudonym; what channels can be used to form networks; how much you can customize your personal page, etc.

I wonder why these kinds of design decisions don’t get talked about more among IAs? Though to be fair, it’s on the rise. There were some great sessions about it at the last summit.

I can’t help but have a strong gut feeling, though, that the IA of “categorization and organization” of static structures is going to pale in comparison in terms of importance and impact next to the design decisions behind rules-based structures such as this.

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  • http://thinkingandmaking.com Austin

    In FB, pre-existing offline relations are totally on the honor system.

    The main difference between FB and MySpace is that MySpace doesn;t care why you want to connect, and FB wants you to at least pretend you have a non-self-serving reason.

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