As social networks grow up, they grow acne and facial hair.
But they also start to mature, and to become more complicated.
Analysts that are unaware of those changes risk missing out on some of the subtleties.
danah boyd’s ‘None of this is real’ describes what Garde-Hansen calls “the binary logic of computer culture” expressed in Friendster/Facebook’s friendship model:
Participants feel pressure to accept connections with people they do not regard as friends simply so that they do not have to face the challenge of rejection.
This is undoubtedly true – and I have accepted many non-friends’ connection requests too.
But I believe that boyd’s notion of a binary logic is becoming outdated as social networks like Facebook grow up.
There have long been features available in Facebook that enable a user to shape their relationships with specific individuals or groups of users – for example, I have some my more distant friends on the in-built ‘acquaintances’ list feature to restrict how many of their posts appear in my newsfeed, and I use the ‘restricted’ feature for certain professional connections to minimise the extent to which they can view my content.
These are tools for power users. But they are also tools that align perfectly with Facebook’s mission to show you only the best, most relevant content at any one time. So expect them to become more prominent, and perhaps more automated, future.
And they are tools that disrupt the idea of a binary logic, of friend/not friend, of a robotic on/off computational system, underlying Facebook and other social networks.
They are becoming more nuanced – more human. Or at least they are trying better to reflect how humans interact in real life. And real life is very far indeed from being binary.
Garde-Hansen, J. (2009). My memories? Personal digital archive fever and Facebook. In Save as… Digital memories, ed. Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A., and Reading, A.. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.142
boyd, d. (2008), None of this is real. In Karaganis, J. (ed)., Structures of Participation in Digital Culture. New York:NY, p.146