Hyves: Social Network Site?
Social networksite Hyves is declared ‘website of the year’ by internet users in The Netherlands. About fifty percent of the Dutch own a profile on this fast growing social network site. But what is Hyves and how to study it?
According tot danah boyd* and Nicole Ellison in Social networksites: My definition, a social network site is ‘category of websites with profiles, semi-persistent public commentary on the profile, and a traversable publicly articulated social network displayed in relation to the profile.’ She clarifies:
Profile. A profile includes an identifiable handle (either the person’s name or nick), information about that person (e.g. age, sex, location, interests, etc.). Most profiles also include a photograph and information about last login. Profiles have unique URLs that can be visited directly.
Traversable, publicly articulated social network. Participants have the ability to list other profiles as “friends” or “contacts” or some equivalent. This generates a social network graph which may be directed (“attention network” type of social network where friendship does not have to be confirmed) or undirected (where the other person must accept friendship). This articulated social network is displayed on an individual’s profile for all other users to view. Each node contains a link to the profile of the other person so that individuals can traverse the network through friends of friends of friends….
Semi-persistent public comments. Participants can leave comments (or testimonials, guestbook messages, etc.) on others’ profiles for everyone to see. These comments are semi-persistent in that they are not ephemeral but they may disappear over some period of time or upon removal. These comments are typically reverse-chronological in display. Because of these comments, profiles are a combination of an individuals’ self-expression and what others say about that individual.
Does Hyves meet this definition? A person or an organisation can make a profile that’s either public or private. Persons can publish their profile and can add information just basically (for example only nickname, sex, age) or much extended. The profile has its own url. There’s a list of friends on the profile, a pallet of images that are clickable. You can’t see this if the person’s profile is private or only visible for friends and you’re not one of them. You’re only someone’s friend if both you and you’re wannabe-friend agree. It’s possible to leave comments on a profile, it’s called ‘krabbelen’. Also, you can ‘tik’ someone, you can leave a little personal message. On the profile persons can blog and drop a ‘wie wat waar’, a Twitter-ish whereabouts-message. This all makes that Hyves meets to the definition of social networksites (often just called SNS). It’s not an attention network, both (wannabe) friends have to agree to the digital relationship.
There’s an important feature of Hyves boyd doesn’t speak about in her analyzes of social network sites. Hyvers can start or join a group that’s related to a theme, a celebrity, a company, a brand or whatsoever. These groups can be set up by anyone who has a Hyves-profile. A group, called a Hyve, looks similar to a personal profile, but there’s no real personal profile-function as mentioned above. Here also, a group can be private and even non-visible. Members of the group are able to discuss on a forum. Without moderations there is complete freedom for the content, but that can lead to complete chaos. For an example, look at the Media & Cultuur-hyve that’s more a wall with digital graffiti than a discussion forum.
At least interesting are the Hyves that are related to a specific brand. In fact, one of the H&M Hyves, groups linked to this shop, is one of biggest Hyves with more than 200.000 members. About forty groups are linked to Jamba, a provider of ring tones etcetera. Most of them are anti-Hyves: groups whereon members complain about, or worse, curse on Jamba. In this context, a social network site is used for letting know and share the hate on that particular brand. Remarkable is it to see, you don’t have to be the owners of the brand to start a Hyve about it.
Using Hyves is free. Everybody can set up a profile. But if you like to have more rights, you can become a Goldmember. It will cost you some money, but as a Goldmember you don’t have to deal with advertisement on your profile and more traffic (who, when?) on your profile is visible for you.
How to study?
Social Network Sites don’t have a century long history and they exist only a few years. In 2006, Hanneke Vos researched the motivation of Hyvers. Why do people use Hyves? In her conclusion Vos says that the main reasons for ‘Hyving’ are escaping and relaxing, communication with friends and fun. She did a qualitative survey and I think that’s a proper way to study phenomena like Hyves. Quantitavi surveys are just a freeze of one moment, while social network sites change, grow or decline all the time. Personally, I think the outcome of such a survey is interesting for marketing purposes, but not that significant for humanities research.
Danah boyd says that there’s a lack of experimental or longitudinal studies. Scholars, according to boyd, still have little understanding of who is and who is not using. There’s a discussion going on the importance of social network sites, she says. I think that’s not the discussion. It’s 2008 and many people – the half of the Dutch citizens, for example, have a Hyves profile – are is some way digital networking, at least in the United States and Europe. That proves the importance of social network sites. They can’t be ignored.
* It’s danah boyd, not Danah Boyd (why?)
Some Hyves-profiles and groups that are remarkable:
Serious Request: The group, related to the Radio 3FM charity program, with the most members of all the groups.
Jan-Peter Balkenende: Profile of the Dutch Prime Minister.
Help Madeleine vinden: Community with the aim to find Madeleine MacCann, the missing three year old girl.
Hippe Tekenfilms van Vroegâh: Kind of fansite about (old) cartoons.
Youtube: Hyves group about Youtube.
Nootje01: profile of the writer of this blog entry.
MoM: there’s no MoM Hyve….yet.