Is an Actual SNS?

On: October 4, 2008
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About Dorris de Heij
I finished my Bachlor in Information science last year and am now a student at the New Media Master.

In her research paper “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, Danah Boyd makes explicit what the features of a social network are and what their purpose is. I decided to check if these features are present in the couchsurfing community to see if this is a real SNS (social network site) or a kind of hotelbooking website. The characteristics a SNS should include, according to Boyd, are things like the website must: “Allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”

These features can all be found in the couchsurfing community. You have to make a profile, preferably with a picture, you can see which users are your friends and what kind of a relationship you’re involved in and you can see their relationships as well. You can leave messages for eachother and see some personal information about your friends and about your friends’ friends. So from this definition couchsurfing definitely is a Social Network Site.
In her essay Boyd actually mentions couchsurfing as a YASNS: “Yet Another Social Networking Service.” (a qoute from Clay Shirky). So she certainly thinks it is a Social Network Site. But does the site act up to other features she decribes? Boyd argues the term Network in “Social Network Sites” is preferred over “Networking” because: “”Networking” emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers. While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC).” Maybe here is the difference from most communitysites and couchsurfing, as couchsurfing is especially to meet strangers and use this network to find a place to sleep. It is not as she says to meet people you already know but especially to meet people you dón’t already know and aren’t in your (extended) social network already. But, you cán make friends after you have met them in real life and see their friends and they can see yours, so this makes it a bit confusing, after meeting people this site does work as a SNS. You just have to go through a bit more trouble finding friends since you don’t know them yet. On the other hand, maybe this is just a website to take advantage of eachother, trying to sleep for free in the city you’re visiting. This would make it more of a market place or hotel booking website. The slogan of the site would implie different though: ” “CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding. As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal.”

So maybe between Network sites and Networking sites there is another genre which is in between of a dating site, a Networking site and a Network site. Where people can meet, not just for love or friendship but also for new experiences and of course for accomodation. You can meet friends here without the intention of seeking for a new friend and you can check out these new friends and their networks. You can see links and relationships between other couchsurfers while your goal is to find a place to stay.

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

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