Social Networking

March 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm (social networking)

I actually started exploring social networking back in the middle of January as an online debate was taking place at The Economist and a flurry of blog posts were coming across my Bloglines related to social networking within the first week I started using it.  This is what I wrote then…   

I would have never thought before a week ago that I would be spending Saturday evening catching up on my blog reading through Bloglines. 

And there is an interesting conversation unfolding related to social networking.   This particular discussion started at the Economist website in the fall.  Will Richardson got in on the discussion on his blog in response to danah boyd’s post.  Then, David Warlick made this post, in it referring to one of his previous posts

Even better, Will Richardson, Joyce Valenza, David Jakes (whom I discovered yesterday) and others are exploring this topic and others right now at Educon 2.0.

Now that I know a bit about what web 2.0 tools are (Flickr, video sharing, podcasts, virtual libraries, wikis, VoiceThread), what they have to offer and how they relate to social networking. 

But, I still want to take it back to where I started following the social networking debate.  In discussing platform, David Warlick (Jan. 13) sees three areas, e-portfolios, course management systems and social networks, overlapping like a Venn diagram.  In the overlap, he sees student-centred, technology infused, constructivist, inquiry-based learning happening as a matter of course rather than by design. 

Will Richardson (Jan. 16) says we must acknowledge the importance of Facebook in the lives of our students.  We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.  With this I agree whole-heartedly.  To use a cliche, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And so I did last summer or fall – I can’t remember exactly.  I had been hearing about Facebook repeatedly on CBC radio.  I had visited the homepage on several occasions but couldn’t find the nerve to sign up.  One day, I just decided to jump in.  Out of my circle of friends, I was first to join.  They joined because I invited them.  My circle of friends has remained very small because I don’t use the word “friends” lightly, like some of the requests that I have received from former students who have amassed lists of over 500 “friends.”  As boyd suggests, the term “friend” can be misleading as the use of the word does not necessarily mean a friendship. 

Richardson says this doesn’t mean that we teach with sites like Facebook.  Instead, we need to teach the literacies of networking, the “ability to create and find and connect the dots.”  With this I also agree.  He more explicity says,

“Social networks as they are currently defined and delivered aren’t for schools.  But using social tools to teach our students to build their own network, networks that go beyond simply socializing with people they already know has to be.” 

I readily admit that I don’t know enough about the use of Facebook in schools to be able to decide one way or  the other.  In some of my other classes, spouses of my peers were using Facebook to connect with high school students.  I do agree with Richardson that we need to start using social networking tools such as wikis and blogs; one could be used to scaffold to the other in helping students build those connections based on curricular content rather than just socializing. 

Will Richardson pointed me to a post by danah boyd (Jan. 15), one he said he read four times and was probably the most important one he’d read so far this year.  While she stipulates the importance of social network sites (SNSs) because they allow students to congregate and socialize in a way that they aren’t able to do publically in an unsupervised fashion, on the flip side, 

“SNSs do not make youth engaged educationally; they allow educationally-motivated youth with a structure to engage educationally.” 


“[T]heir value is about the kinds of informal social learning that is required for maturation – understanding community, learning [to] communicate with others, working through status games, building and maintaining friendships, working through personal values, etc.  All too often we underestimate these processes because, traditionally, they happened so naturally.”

I wonder what has happened that kids don’t get together to socialize outside of school?  Or at least not as much as they used to?  This is something that I first questioned at Katie and Cindy’s getyourgameon wiki where I said,

I remember a friend telling me about how their circle of friends used to play outside for hours and hours. Now the parks are empty as kids retreat to the their game consoles attached to their TV or computer gaming. Which caused which? Did the decrease in safety force kids inside or did the games draw them in?

Granted, kids don’t hang out at the roller rink, burger joints (and haven’t for a really long time) and seem to spend less and less time at the mall (which to me seem to be increasingly scary places) or in arcades (I never realized that the ones at the mall even closed until now!), but they do get together in other places and spaces, both online and off.  As boyd points out, informal online socializing does have its place and is valuable.  I also agree that it is the students who are motivated to do well in school who will use the online version of their offline social network to multi-task and seek out homework help from friends while IMing, using the pre-established network to assist them with school work.  Yes, they connect with the people in their classes, they expand their “friends” lists, a form of status in itself (boyd, 2007) but not for the sole purpose of discussing the next essay topic.  I don’t see, and can’t see, students independently creating a social network on Facebook to help them with their school work…at least not yet. 

Back to David Warlick (Jan. 17), who says, what I believe to be, two important things:

  1. “There is a difference (right now) between social networks (or social network sites), and social networking.  In my mind, a social network is a single site with features that facilitate social experiences.  Social networking, on the other hand, is what is done in social networks, but can also be done with smaller and personally combined tools, such as blogs, wikis, podcasting, aggregators, twitter, etc.  Neither (at this time) fully encompasses the other.”  [A visual of this is available at his blog.]
  2. “Facebook is an example of a social network site.  They are not synonymous.  What frustrates me about Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, is that their feature sets are way [too] limiting.  I think a social network has enormous potential, especially to education.  But not in its current form.  I’m afraid that if we are limiting our notions of social networks to what’s already been developed in FB, MS, and even Ning, and dismiss them as a result, then we may just miss a wonderful opportunity.”

I like Warlick’s simple explanation of the distinction between social networking and a social network or a social network site such as Facebook or MySpace, both of which I have accounts. 

When I first started using Facebook, I found it much more addicting, particularly for the status updates, a service that is replicated by Twitter.  Now, I rarely check in.  Part of what has turned me off is

  • the lack of privacy controls (I thought I had set my profile to private only to find out that it was public)
  • the fact that it is a money making scheme of which I am the target of an obscene amount of advertising (no, I don’t want to send someone a $1 virtual baby gift)
  • the disparity between what my friends and I believe to be appropriate content (boyd put it this way: “privacy options offered by SNSs do not provide users with the flexibility they need to handle conflicts with Friends who have different conceptions of privacy”
  • all the gimmick time wasters – I have 13 pending requests right now including snowman, acquarium, jackpot and movie gift.  Who has time for these things?!

I signed up for a MySpace account the same week I set up my blog.  It never hooked me.  I never felt compelled to fill in yet another profile, “Yet Another Social Networking Service” (YASNS), a term coined by Clay Shirky (boyd, 2007).  After creating only one profile at Facebook, I was already a victim of “consumer fatigue.”  I was burned out recreating my social life on another new network. 

Because I was accustomed to the Facebook interface, I didn’t find MySpace user friendly and couldn’t figure out the privacy controls so that my birthdate/sign didn’t appear on my profile.  This frustrated me.  If it’s not easy to use I’m not interested in using it.  However, having said that, there are many users and maybe I just didn’t give it a chance.  I did learn of a C.S. Lewis widget for the new Prince Caspian movie, one that I wasn’t able to add to my blog but easily added to MySpace.     

Will Richardson commented on Warlick’s two points saying,

“SNSs are being used differently as we get older, that the exclusively social use of SNS occurs in adolescents.” 

From my own observations of lurking while my “friends” message back and forth in the public Facebook space, all I have seen is the social side of Facebook.   

Over at Ewan McIntosh’s blog (Jan 17), he elaborates on his proponent position in The Economist Debate Series,

“social tools without any networks to use them with is like turning up to a party where no-one else was invited….The tools need a network which needs the user to know how to network in the first place.”

McIntosh goes on to say whether you choose one social network like Facebook or a combination of blog and reader (which he refers to as social media at large or what I have referred to in a previous post as social software which falls under the umbrella of social computing – see Words of Wiki) it doesn’t matter because they get you to the same end result.

I disagree.  My use of a combination of social media, as McIntosh calls it, which Warlick describes using as well – my blog, Bloglines, searches of the social bookmarking sites Furl and, collaboration on a wiki – is much more beneficial to my own learning, more fruitful academically and more engaging for me than any Facebook discussion I have ever had.  Is that just because the right people aren’t my “friends” in Facebook?  Even if they were, as Warlick mentioned, the combination of smaller tools give the user options which simply are not available in Facebook.  I have joined the Facebook groups CANSCAIP, Young Alberta Book Society and Librarians and Web 2.0 but their membership is relatively small and there isn’t a space to contemplate ideas extensively like with a blog or collaborate like in a wiki.  The social part of using the combination of tools that I do occurs when I receive blog comments that spur my thinking and lead me to respond, negotiate wiki content or share or benefit from tagged bookmarks.   

In the end, Warlick, boyd, Richarson and McIntosh are all in agreement, as am I, that the use of technology must be student centred and not technology centred, something that Michael Bugeja, who argued for the opposition in The Economist debate, doesn’t see as possible. 

boyd (Jan. 18) did delve more into the terminology than Warlick, referring to an article co-authored with Nicole Ellison where they define social networks as:

web-based services that allow individuals to

  1. construct a public or semi-public profie within a bounded system
  2. articulate a list of other uses with whom they share a connection, and 
  3. view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others with the system.  The name and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.

While we use the term “social network site” to describe this phenomenon, the term “social networking sites” also appears in public discourse, and the two terms are often used interchangeably.  We choose not to employ the term “networking” for two reasons: emphasis and scope.  “Networking” emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers.  While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice….

What makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks. 

It has been my experience that social network sites support offline networks by making them visible.  My Facebook “friends” do not particpate in it for the purposes of making new friends.  (In fact, one person I know had to be out right rude to someone who wouldn’t leave her alone.)  Rather, Facebook, as a social network in boyd’s and Warlick’s  definition of the term, is a way to “bridge” weak ties with a friend of a friend for example, “bond” already close relationships between friends and family, and “maintain social capital” with peers from high school, former colleagues or in other locales after a move or meeting on a vacation (Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe, 2007).  Even though I socialize on a personal level with former colleagues through Facebook, we engage in professional dialogue over email, over the phone and in person.

For the purpose of this blog theme, I will explore social networks focusing on MySpace, and social networking, social networking tools and social computing through a critical lens of a junior high school and junior high library setting. 



  1. elizabeth said,

    I agree wholeheartedly with Richardson when he says “Social networks as they are currently defined and delivered aren’t for schools. But using social tools to teach our students to build their own network, networks that go beyond simply socializing with people they already know has to be.” That’s it in a nutshell for me, however I will continue to watch for advances in SNS’s like Ning.

  2. Brogan Keane said,

    The interesting thing about Facebook’s current privacy debate is the majority of those who are offended happen to be in the 30+ demographic.

    The majority of teens can care less about their privacy on social networks. Adult segment is by nature and habit much more in tune with their identity both online and offline.

    If your interested I’ve written a post at addressing the interesting dilemma of guarding adult privacy on social networks.

    Hope this helps Arlene!



  3. arllennium said,

    Hi Brogan,

    Thanks for pointing me to your blog. I look forward to checking it out.


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