Doing research on online social networks has its benefits especially when you read academics and scholars theorizing on contextually difficult topics of new web phenomena such as blogs or social networks. The context of new web media, IMO, is best suited to younger academics who are more adept in understanding it due to the simple fact they are likely to be active practitioners and users of their own research subjects.
One benefit I get so far is understanding better how social networking theory is applied in SNS like Friendster, Linkedin, Facebook, MySpace and how various management teams are tweaking the rules in order to milk out revenue models. An example is Linkedin’s InMail that charges you a fee for contacting a second-degree contact directly. No such problems on Friendster, you can send a message any time as its founding goal was really to help pple date better.
Hookups. In all online dating sites, people surf for hookups
as well as potential partners. While the implied theory is
that friends-of-friends are the most compatible partners,
hookups use the network in a different manner. Many user
looking for hookups prefer to be three or four degrees away
so as to not complicate personal matters. In addition to intown
hookups, Friendster users tell me that they also use
the site to find hookups when traveling.
Direct Pestering. People often fail to introduce their single
friends to one another. By having a public articulation of
one’s network, it is really easy to look at Friends’ Friends
and bug the intermediary about potential compatibility.
While three and four degrees are often meaningless to
people, there is a decent amount of trust in second-degree
connections, simply because they can be easily confirmed
via a shared connection.
Familiar Strangers. When Milgram coined the term “Familiar Strangers,” he was referring to the strangers that
one sees regularly, but never connects with . Given
additional contexts, an individual is quite likely to approach
a familiar stranger. For many, Friendster provides that
additional context. In browsing the site, users find people
that they often see out. From the Profile, one can guess
another’s dating status and sexuality as well as interests and
connections. Often, this is enough additional information to
prompt a user into messaging someone on Friendster or
approaching that person offline.
There is also a case study of these two guys who tried cashing in on the value of their Friendster networks by advertising their connections on eBay. Here’s the sales pitch of one of them:
“The ‘self’ you’re packaging on Friendster is a strictly delimited individual – but when I’m selling my network on ebay, the value is determined by my extended self, defined by its relationships and surfaces rather than content – in other words, the true me, in its full, fragmented, postmodern glory, all the more true the instant a dollar value is placed on it!”
Awesome, maybe this short paragraph will spark some of us to expand our networks today and enhance our “full, fragmented, postmodern glory”… =)