The ‘Flow’ of SNS
Recently, a good friend of mine asked if he can leave a comment on Wikipedia’s page. This made me think how frequently used online platforms can shape our expectations toward other online platforms. Usually these expectations get detected by the platforms’ designers and they become available through the next platform’s upgrade. No surprise if soon Wikipedia enables comments. In Software Takes Command, Lev Manovich argues that in the software environment designers remix not only the content specific to different media but also their techniques, methods of expression, etc. In the online media the process of ‘deep remixability’ gets further developed since platforms, content and methods ‘specific’ to one online platform often gets remixed and embedded in other. FaceBook, for examples, enables real time conversation, (micro) blogging, group’s communication (Picnic’09 discussed the possibility of groups’ organization through FaceBook in countries with military regimes), games, questioners, etc. Other social networking platforms incorporate tagging (Elgg) or applications (Ning). There are plenty and various social networking sites and its quite likely that some of them also enable GIS location (incorporation of physical space), sharing bookmarks or working collaboratively on online documents. The tendency is toward incorporating more features to keep the users within one networking site. Google Wave clearly exemplifies this. The so called ‘extensions’ will enable users of the Wave and their friends to post blog entries or comments without accessing the blog page, to generate tags in real time on Flickr without going to the Flickr’s page, to search Twitter’s updates through the login from the Wave, etc.
According to Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison “the bulk of SNS research has focused on impression management and friendship performance, networks and network structure, online/offline connections, and privacy issues”. Social networking sites have been mostly related to articulation of identity through profile markers and friends links, self-presentation, impression management, willingness to connect, etc. Comparative analysis of MySpace and FaceBook has been carried out explicating which platform ‘encourages’ more interaction with unknown users, which one is an extension of the offline friend’s group. While most of the SNS’s research tries to reveal the social/cultural side of the social networking usage, I would suggest researching the platforms in terms of the ‘flow’ they maintain. The ‘flow’ is a concept coined by Williams (1974) related to television production: the competition between different channels has necessitated the ‘flow’ as a way to keep the audience tuned in for a long succession of time. The ‘flow’ is maintained within the programme and the various items in it, and within the actual image and words in the items. How is the ‘flow’ maintained on FaceBook? Users can talk in real time, or upload pictures, or blog, or take tests/ draw wishes, or browse what their friends (of friends…) have posted. How can the ‘flow’ be researched quantitatively? If users’ activities are ‘coded’ in the metadata of their page (LiveJournal uses XML and RFID to do so) then by analyzing a sample of it we can see how users’ activities extend in time by switching from feature to feature. Acquiring any data about users’ activities, however, can be quite a challenging task since, by far, social networking sites act as highly centralized systems (although the data ‘belongs’ to the user, it is bound to the site). Even if some users’ metadata is provided by a SNS corporate body to be analyzed for patterns, drawing a fine line between academic work and corporate research would be hard to manage. Nevertheless, bringing awareness to how social networking sites enable a ‘flow’ by offering various features to keep the users ‘logged -in’ is important and hopefully useful.
Boyd, D. M., Ellison, N. B. (2008) “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, p.8