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The Black Hole of Facebook

Social Networking…and she told two friends, and she told two friends, and so on, and so on…The shampoo commercial from the 70s had the initial idea of Social Networking!

Who? 
“As of this morning, 500 million people all around the world are actively using Facebook to stay connected with their friends and the people around them.” Mark Zuckerberg, Wednesday, July 21, 2010.

According to Anderson Analytics (Perez, 2009),  approximately 60% of the online population in the United States uses Social Networks, which calculates to over 100 million people.  The other 400 million are from the rest of the connected world.  Not every SNS user is a member of the Facebook Tribe, but a large majority certainly are!

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/who_uses_social_networks_and_what_are_they_like_pa.php 

What?
“Social” – living in communities; relating to society; sociable
“Network” – interconnecting group of people or things
“Social Networking” – sociable interconnecting groups!

 Wikipedia says A social network service is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, e.g., who share interests and/or activities.”

How is it different from other online tools? Richardson (2007) explains that “Blogs, wikis, etc. focus on the creation of content and meaning.  [Social Networking Sites] focus primarily on creating connections rather than creating content.”

Where?
http://social-networking-websites-review.toptenreviews.com/ – has a 2011 Social Networking Websites Review Comparison, WOW 2011!  They have a time machine, I guess:
#1 Facebook
#2 MySpace
#3 Bebo
with Friendster, hi%, Orkut, PerfSpot and Habbo secure in the top 10, for now.  http://blog.perksconsulting.com/2010/08/insights-comparison-of-old-and-new-social-network-maps-xkcd-vs-flowtown/ suggests that the “Top SN sites” are in a state of fluctuation and that there are several sites to pay attention to: Apple, Farmville, Google Me, Location Based Services such as Foursquare/Facebook Places.” Still liking the Vegas odds on Facebook.

http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/compared_with_twitter_myspace_users_choose_faceboo.php agrees saying: Widget provider Gigya sent us some numbers from their social network login tool and in a three company competition, Facebook came away with 65% of the traffic, MySpace with 18% (and Twitter with 17%).

Anderson Analytics (and other researchers) are predicting even higher growth in Facebook in the coming years.  Considering the traffic on Facebook more than doubled from April 2009 to July 2010, I must agree.

“We will welcome our 200 millionth active user to Facebook some time today…” Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, April 8, 2009.  Check back to the quote above…500 million only 15 months later.  Exponential growth.

When?
Perez (2009) refers to a study conducted by Anderson Analytics and concludes: “Out of the 110 million Americans (or 60% of the online population) who use social networks, the average social networking user logs on to these sites quite a bit. They go to social networking sites 5 days per week and check in 4 times a day for a total of an hour per day. Nine percent of that group stay logged in all day long and are “constantly checking what’s new”.”

The study goes on to say that, interestingly, only 10% of SNS users are logging in at work.  The rest are using their leisure time in a whole new(ish) online way.

Why?

The $64 thousand dollar question…WHY do so many millions of people feel the need to check in with their virtual “friends” on a daily basis?  David Bellgam (2009) says people use SNS to:

  • Meet new friends
  • Find old friends
  • Romance
  • Job hunting
  • Social group finding

How?

Let’s look at a few SNS in greater detail…

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The “Black Hole” of Facebook
Dr. Ciaran McMahon (2010) has conducted a study of Facebook and has detailed many interesting pieces of information.  She reports:

  • Statistics from Facebook.com (2010) show 500 million active users, 70% of whom are outside of the USA
  • Average user = 130 friends, 90 pieces of content/month
  • A study by Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007) shows a strong association between use of Facebook and bridging social capital.  These are “weak ties”, loose connections between individuals, not a relationship of emotional support. 
  • Usage was found to interact with self-esteem, might provide greater benefits for users experiencing low self esteem and low life satisfaction…
  • Facebook = higher parental education

Documenting my own Facebook usage:

  • A non-convert holdout for several years.  Actually had an account with one “friend” (the one who signed me up) in 2007.  Looked at it only on its inception.  In fact, she used to post messages on my birthday saying “I know you will never see this, but happy birthday”, for several years!
  • In May 2010, I challenged students to close FB accounts on “Quit Facebook Day” (http://www.quitfacebookday.com/) and one student asked me how I could dislike something I had never tried…how could a 12-year-old be so clever?
  • “Re-opened” my Facebook account in June 2010.  Began to use it sporadically and was soon up to at least one visit / day.  Even when we were away on holiday, I used the computer in the hotel lobby to “keep up”.  Noticed that my “friends” posted either positives from their lives (which seem to be quite rosy on Facebook), or laments about life (which still seem pretty rosy).  Do we feel uncomfortable letting our hundreds of “friends” know our true feelings? Zhao, Grasmuck & Martin (2008, in McMahon, 2010) agree, saying “Facebook is a ‘nonymous’ online setting…users tend not to treat it as a venue for expressing their ‘hidden selves’ (such as marginalized or contested identities).” You may disagree, but now you can use the word “nonymous” in conversation.  
  • Decided to keep my “friends” to those who I would call if I (oh dear) found out I was pregnant again.  I know I am an anomaly with my 18 friends, but it feels more connected for me that way.  Finding it difficult to not accept every “friend request” that comes along.  Actually, not so much of an anomaly, according to Perez (2009), over 2/3 of people who use social media only connect to family and friends / people they have actually met in person.  (But I am pickier than most, I think.  Even if I know and like someone, my goal is to keep the number low.  Even my long lost relatives in Australia are still in a “let’s-be-friends-request-holding-pattern”.)
  • I did find FB helpful in connecting with a few close relatives who live in a different town and find it fun to keep up with them about their daily lives…but, I would much rather talk on the phone, well, most of the time.  Time is a constraint in this area, I realize, so FB does make it easier.  Particularly with the frantic pace of my life right now, while taking a course, it is somewhat soothing to check my FB page for a few minutes before flying off onto another 2.0 web-quest!
  • My personal settings are high and I rarely post any photos of myself (just my profile, and not really a “face view”).
  • For this post, I decided to “drop out” of Facebook for several weeks to see what my reaction, and my “friends” reaction, would be (or perhaps I was reacting to Dr. McMahon’s suggestion that FB users may suffer from low self-esteem and find their lives unfulfilling) .  Finding it very difficult to keep from logging on.  Did anyone notice that I wasn’t commenting on their status updates.  No.  Did anyone comment or send an email or message asking if things were okay?  No.  Any actual phone calls from my “friends”?  No.  I am going to continue to ignore Facebook for a time and monitor what happens.  Will my true “friends” contact me to see why my regular responses and updates have disappeared or are they only “virtual friends” – interested only in my online life?  I will probably give in and post in a few days, but it has been an interesting (and sadly, eye-opening) bit of research.
  • UPDATE:  Lasted 8 days.  Had to “update my status”, and “like” and “reply” this evening after attending a family wedding all day.  HAD to!
  • Just this past week, I downloaded photos for the first time.  Even added “captions”!  The amount of responses I have had over the past few days with regards to the photos is interesting.  Seems people have a lot to say when they see a picture! AND I used Photobucket to lighten up a dark photo that my sister really liked.  Go web tool team!

Am I keeping my Facebook site?  You bet.  Anderson Analytics actually reports that “Facebook is not only the overwhelming favourite social networking site among college students; it may rapidly become the only SNS that matters.”  I want to be a part of something that matters.  In fact, the researchers were confused by their findings.  Due to Facebook’s popularity with “older” SNS users, that fact in itself usually indicates a falling of a site’s popularity with younger users.  Not so with Facebook.  It keeps on getting stronger, and going, and going, and going…

************************************************************************************************************Comet Space2cre8

I visited this site (www.space2cre8.com) and as I explored their “demo” page, I thought “Facebook Jr?”.  Space2cre8 seems to be geared creating a kid-version of international relations.  It is also a research site.  This would be a good site to introduce to my recruits if we could access it together…I tried to sign up for an educational workspace, but could not.

*************************************************************************************************************MySpace, The MySpace soon to be known as “Pluto”

Since FB took over as SNS leader in mid-2009, MySpace has been trying to find its niche.  A wonderful article by “Marko” at http://www.ep-webeditors.eu/2010/03/the-battle-of-the-giants-facebook-and-myspace-fight-it-out/ concludes that the one-time forerunner in Social Networking is moving toward a platform focused more on showcasing multimedia content produced by the entertainment industry in its widest sense to keep its corner in the SNS market.

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Planet LinkedIn

From http://ezinearticles.com/?A-Brief-Overview-of-Social-Networks-and-Their-Best-Uses-for-Businesses&id=5284977 “LinkedIn is the original business social network. Through the use of connections, users can connect with those who have done business with before, those you have worked with at different jobs and build an online network of people in the business community. You can join groups to further connect your network, ask for reference requests as well as search your list of contacts to find someone who can help you with.”

Perez (2009) declares that Anderson Analytics has determined that LinkedIn users have the highest average income and “joined the network for business or work purposes, specifically for keeping in touch with business networks, job searching, business development, and recruiting.”

I interviewed online marketing executive Sharon Simpson from STIR Communications, and she agreed that LinkedIn was more for business purposes.  She uses Facebook for her personal social connections but any business connections were through LinkedIn.  There are no personal contacts on that site.

*************************************************************************************************************Sattelite Meteor Shower of Nings
I like the idea of Nings – SNS dedicated to professionals in a particular area.  I looked forward to participating in the Ning of Canadian T-Ls, (http://canucktls.ning.com/) but after registering and exploring the site, did not see much “action” on this Ning. Perhaps because I am not actually working as a TL, it is not the first one I check into when I have a few spare minutes.

************************************************************************************************************* Entering orbit of the Shelfari moon

http://www.shelfari.com/ – disappointed I cannot use this tool in my wordpress.com blog.  Pilot Kirsten has given instructions, so may have success when I try again.    Looking forward to the holidays when I can get involved in the discussion groups available through the site. 
Have shown recruits this site.  Encouraged them to try in their own spacepods, with parental knowledge, of course.  When we begin lit circles next month, it will be interesting to refer to Shelfari for additional input on the novels we read.

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Reflections on the process of learning about the tool

Embarking upon the Facebook voyage (documented above), has made me more comfortable to use other SNS, such as Shelfari and Nings.  Once familiar with one tool, it does seem quite natural using another.  They are similar in design, to a certain degree, and that familiarity makes it easy to try something new.  (They must be aware of this, those designers!).  Eventually, I plan on belonging to several Nings, based on the courses I teach and my interests.  My respect for Social Networking Sites increased with my use.  Referring back to that insightful grade seven student “Don’t knock it ‘till you try it”.      

Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal life and learning

Future plans: I will keep my Facebook site active and register for whichever SNS is popular in the future.  I know that when my children begin to use a Social Networking Site, I will want to be able to “check in” and make sure I have an understanding of what is going on in their lives.  Of course I intend to use more traditional forms of communication: family dinner and movie nights, family vacations, and good old-fashioned “talking together”, but I also have to be realistic.  Once my kids are teens, they will no longer have the same need for my attention to every detail in their lives.

And, to be honest, I enjoy my online social life.  At this moment, it is my only social life…

Teaching and learning

Considering my students have been using SNS much longer than I have, we may have a role reversal!  Luckily, I can read (and understand) the big words on Wikipedia a bit more easily, so the educational applications fall under my jurisdiction. Suggested educational applications from Wikipedia have some insight:
The National School Boards Association reports that almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork. Yet the vast majority of school districts have stringent rules against nearly all forms of social networking during the school day — even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online.

Richardson (2007) adds…we’re willing to share our ideas and resources with the network for its betterment, because we get back just as much if not more.  This vision is much different from the traditional classroom in which most student work is done in isolation, never finding connection to a larger whole that might be produced by the class in its entirety.  That’s not to say that in this new world students don’t do their own work.  But it does mean that responsibility for that work is in some way shared by those interacting with it, the readers and commentators from within the classroom or outside if allowed.  Learning is a continuous conversation among many participants.

In the library, or in the classroom, using Social Networking is a way to interact with students in a meaningful way.  “Speaking their language”, in other words.  Mathews (2007) believes that by using SMS and “treating patrons as peers and interacting with them on their turf, librarians [and teachers] can be perceived as genuine allies, leading to a positive impression and potential future usage.”  He suggests that educators use SMS to show what the library/classroom is capable of, assess needs to determine future directions , repackage information into virtually accessible format, promote events and educate, particularly about the need for security on the internet.  This final concept is a definite area that needs further attention from educators.

In fact, concerns surrounding privacy have kept me from using Social Networking Sites in the classroom.  As online teaching and learning becomes more of a reality, if not a necessity, educators do need to be extremely protective of their students’ privacy (even if the students themselves have little regard, as evidenced by some of the Facebook sites that are easily accessible for anyone).  It is an educator’s responsibility to facilitate the learning of their clients.  We cannot pretend that Facebook doesn’t exist; instead, we must show sites that need to have more security and we discuss what should and should not be posted.  Recently, I added http://www.connectsafely.org/pdfs/fbparents.pdf to my web page and our school’s website and forwarded the link to senior district administration with the hopes that all parents in our school district take the time to become more familiar with the SNS their children are using. 

Even with these concerns, I am considering creating a Facebook Site with my “Teacher” name.  I would encourage students to create a “Student” account and use it strictly for educational purposes.  I may have to create an account for each subject I teach…that would be several to monitor, but may encourage more participation and collaboration than the WordPress Blog I currently use seems to do.  (No comments from students at all since September).  If students are using social media, it is likely to be Facebook.  This would be a daring undertaking, by my standards, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.  There would have to be complete understanding of posting guidelines as well as parental and administrative support…but it could lead to a successful foray into the social and collaborative read/write web.

To Facebook as a class or not to Facebook, that is the question.

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References:

Bellgam, D. (2009). Why do people use social networking sites?
From: http://www.articlesbase.com/humor-articles/why-do-people-use-social-networking-sites-1103043.html

Mathews, B.S. (2007) Online social networking.  In Nancy Courtney (Ed), Library 2.0 and beyond: Innovative Technologies and tomorrow’s user (pp. 75-89). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

McMahon, C. (2010). Facebook and Psychology.
From: http://www.slideshare.net/CJAMcMahon/facebook-and-psychology-5667955?src=related_normal&rel=5663116

Perez, S. (2009) Who uses social networks and what are they like? http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/who_uses_social_networks_and_what_are_they_like_pa.php

Richardson, W. (2007) The social web: learning together. Blogs, wikis and podcasts. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. (As a Kindle download from Amazon)

Simpson, S. Personal Interview. November 10, 2010.  (www.stir.ca/)

Websites visited:

2 comments

  1. I love how we both faced the same “Shakespearean-themed” dilemma this week!! Great minds think alike! Very interesting exploration of usage stats, it just makes me think more about how difficult it is getting to ignore those cold, hard facts.


  2. I found your comment interesting about how the kids are not commenting on the blog – that is something I am wondering about myself as I consider creating a library blog with an embedded social network. Facebook certainly would be the better way to go since that is where the kids are. I wonder how I could do this within our district though?



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