Social network sites: Migration or multiple residency?

People are buzzing more and more about the need to understand “social network migration,” particularly in the wake of what looks like a  mini-exodus of sorts from MySpace to Facebook. “Migration” is an interesting metaphor. It situates one site as Homeland, and implies that groups of people then pack up and move to a new land. Of course, “migration” also has a bit of a seasonal quality, implying that when the winds shift, people will up and leave once again.

I’m sure that’s happening, but there’s another equally important phenomenon we shouldn’t overlook: multiple residency. People are building digital abodes in more than one site. Rather than moving from one site to another, many people are hanging out in several of these spaces at once – something that is getting easier and easier with applications and widgets that import and export information across them.

I recently surveyed approximately 600 users of One question I asked was whether they used “any other social network sites such as MySpace or Facebook.” Two thirds of them said yes.

When asked whether a random friendship they had on was also a friend on another site, half of those who used other social network sites said yes. In other words, a third of friendship pairs on are also “friends” on at least one other social network site.

Two of my graduate students and I are in the process of making sense of the answers to the open-ended question of how they would compare their friendships to those on other sites, but I can tell you that they are all over the place. Some speak of friendships as being more important and exclusive because they are based on shared music. Some speak of friendships as more trivial and irrelevant because they are based only on music.

In my own case, there is a subset of my friends who are Facebook friends. I have more Facebook friends, but I will add almost anyone who seems to have a decent reason to want to be my friend on, but I’ll only friend people I already know or know that I want to know on Facebook.  Some and Facebook friends are LinkedIn and Flickr contacts. I’m not sure if anyone connects with me in all 4 of those sites, I don’t think so.

Each site manages different dimensions of our relationships, and I don’t particularly want it all fused into a single site, especially if that single site is under corporate ownership. By diversifying my social existence online I can foreground some relational qualities in each site, but I can also spread the risk of dependence on dubiously trustworthy longterm providers.

Thinking in terms of “migration” makes little sense if one wants to understand how people make choices amongst which sites they use for which purposes.

Serious Doubts About Facebook

At the risk of becoming an all Facebook all the time blog, which I really don’t want to be, I do have a few more things to say before hanging up the FB hat for the week.

Last week, they rolled out “social ads” which will be so delightfully targeted just at us that we won’t even perceive them as ads, they will simply be information. Lest the lack of nonverbal cues fools you, I don’t believe it for a second, ads are ads and I don’t want to see them.

In conjunction with this, they also announced brand sites where a company/celeb/whatever can create a profile, and then instead of becoming a friend of that profile, we, the mere users, can become “fans” of that brand. Yep, that’s right, I can announce to the world that I am a “fan” of Facebook. Or Google. Or, apparently, Neko Case. Label conveniently provided by Facebook. All I have to do is bite and my whole social network can know.

Part of me wants to applaud them for recognizing the distinction between “friend” and “fan.” Part of me wants to appreciate the movement of “fan” from “weirdo who needs a life” to “person who’s into Facebook.” Most of me wants to scream. Why? Honestly, I’m not quite sure, but aside from the fact that its execution seems so lame (as Rob Walker nicely summarizes), it just seems so crassly tied to the advertising piece. It also seems aimed to supplant groups that form around brands and enable a much more top-down form of brand-fan interaction.

Facebook’s overt strategy — enter their “beacon” script that sends info from “affiliate” websites back to Facebook so they can share with our networks (and themselves) what we do on the rest of the web — is to turn all of its users into little viral advertising modules. See Fred Stutzman’s blog for the best coverage of the privacy implications of all that FB has been up to lately. Unsettling, to say the least.

I have really liked Facebook these last several months. It’s been a great way to keep contact with a wide group of people I really like but don’t generally keep up with very well when we’re not at the same meetings. It’s been playful, professional, and entertaining.

But if I end up feeling like all those friends are just advertising parasites using my friends as hosts, and if my activities are just fodder for targeted advertising, then I’m done. If Facebook doesn’t make it really easy and obvious for people to opt out (or better yet opt in) to the “affiliate” program, then I’m done.

I am deeply concerned about the degree to which we are living our personal lives in proprietary spaces that do not belong to us and in which we have no rights, not just Facebook and MySpace, but also roleplaying games (what do you do when you get kicked of World of Warcraft and that’s where your friendship group all hangs out?). The inability to download my own information from really bothers me. The inability to download or export information from Facebook is problematic. But if my social life is going to be all about sending and receiving ads, I want out. And if being a “fan” is going to be reduced to “providing advertising for” I want out.

We need ways to build business models that aren’t just about using people to sell stuff and selling stuff to people. Human connection is worth more than that.

Is Facebook A Fad?

picture-1.pngThe video is now up from [Canadian public television station] TVO’s current affairs program, The Agenda‘s panel discussion of the future of Facebook that I participated in the other night with 4 other guests. For the first half I listened along thinking “everyone’s got something interesting to say,” but toward the end there Om Malik pulled out the old “people socialize online because they are socially awkward and don’t want to talk to people face-to-face” canard and I couldn’t help but leap into action to combat caricature with evidence. Wind me up and watch me go.

It was a real hoot recording this. I went to Kansas City Public Television, where I sat alone at a table on a little stagey kind of thing, with a cameraman (who was obscured by his massive camera) and an engineer (hiding behind a little wall behind me) with bright lights beaming down on me. Given that, I was surprised how fully I got caught up in the discussion. When it ended, the camera man and the engineer continued discussing the topic with me, which I thought was a neat testament to how engaging the discussion was. The whole thing was a class operation start to finish.

There were several things I would have liked to have said if it had been a longer discussion, like about the need to differentiate between privacy in terms of what we show others on our facebook pages and privacy in terms of what information facebook collects about us behind the scene for their own use (which is getting creepier by the day), and about the fact that there are privacy controls for the former that people can use (so they could, for instance, opt out of being google indexed on facebook), even if research shows that they rarely do use them. Jesse Hirsch makes a point in the discussion about the basic literacy skills needed to understand how facebook affects one’s privacy that’s important and deserved some elaboration.

So if you’re interested in a high quality half hour discussion of the question, enjoy the video [you have to click the blue 'Is Facebook A Fad' tab next to Steven Pinker]. The video could be very useful for teaching purposes too — I know I’ll be showing it when I teach social networks in my Communication on the Internet course in the next 2 weeks.

Update: The video will only stream for 10 days. If you yearn for your own personal copy, subscribe to the podcast here and you can download it.

Do all social networks suck at groups?

Web 2.0 is supposed to be all about harnessing the wisdom of crowds, playing simultaneously off the glorification of the individual via personalized profiles and services and the algorithmic magic that happens when individual data is mined.

But inbetween there’s the critical level of community — remember that term they all love to throw around in press releases? I know, newsgroups, webboards, mailing lists: it’s all so… Web 1.0. Is it a rejection of Web 1.0, strengths and all, that fuels the shockingly poor management of groups on sites like Facebook and

I “lead” 2 groups on each of those sites, and belong to many others. Almost daily I shake my head in disbelief that people who devote their lives to building social networks would be so inept at supporting the voluntary *group* affiliations people build through their sites.

For instance, neither site provides me any means of being notified when new members join my groups. Neither provides a means of seeing which members are newly joined. In a group like Internet Researchers on, I can figure it out because they list members in order of joining, and there aren’t very many members. In a group like the Association of Internet Reseachers on Facebook, with over 800 members who appear in random order every time they’re listed, there is simply no way to tell. Opportunities for welcoming new members? So Web 1.0!

Neither site does a remotely adequate job of informing any group member when there are new things happening in a group. Facebook provides the ‘groups’ link. Apparently, group interaction is not worthy of NewsFeed status — I am notified every time a friend joins a group, but never notified when someone opens a new line of discussion in a group to which I already belong. The groups page you get when you click that link is pathetic. You can’t click to see which new people have joined, you can’t click to go directly to the new posts. It requires continuous individual mining of each group’s page to see if there are discussions happening. You’re continuously prodded to join new groups via the listings of groups friends have joined, but there’s no support for making those groups work. has a similar “groups” page, except for that it offers absolutely no information about activity in the groups. The “recommending reading” is supposed to tell you if there’s new discussion in the groups to which you belong, but it rarely bothers to let you know which group a new post comes from, as though that absolutely essential piece of information does not matter. About the only thing does right with groups is in identifying which songs and musicians each group recommends and letting you turn off recommendations from any group.

These sites have extraordinary potential to foster networking at the group level. Yet they persistently fail to leverage that by providing meaningful scaffolding to support group interactions. If groups can’t carry on effective discussions and group members don’t have easy ways to see who’s joined and how discussion is progressing, groups become what they are in both of these spaces: identity badges, labels we can put on our profiles to help categorize us. It’s a grotesque waste of the power of human connection and cannot serve either site well.

And don’t even get me started on how terrible the mechanisms are for searching for groups of possible interest in each site.

Are there any social network sites that really help members create communities rather than one-on-one connections?

Social Network Panel at AoIR and Colbert pushes 1,000,000

The roundtable on perspectives and challenges in studying social network sites that I put together for the Association of Internet Researchers’ meeting has been blogged by Sarah Ford here. You have to imagine the conversational flow, but the main points are all there. Thanks Sarah!

On a somewhat related note, Stephen Colbert fans on Facebook have created a group meant to rival Obama’s “1,000,000 Strong For Obama” group. The news here is that within a few days they are nearly there. Obama isn’t. Nor are any of the other “1,000,000 strong” groups for or against people who are actually politicians running for president.

Update: The Colbert fan group just surpassed one million members.