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Now I'm part of a meta-online community.

I have only used social networking sites to spy on people-- to find names, to find out more about people I have just met. I also follow (but rarely contribute to) a discussion board about bicycling in the Twin Cities.

I find that much of what Baym discusses in relation to the R.a.t.s. site ten years ago still holds true-- for example, that “a small group of people does most of the performing.? (Interpreting Soap Opera, Creating Communities, p.105) I find this on the discussion board I frequent, and it seems like (as in real life) the people who talk the most tend to take control. Baym also refers to the "lurking" phenomenon (p. 108)-- It is still common to lurk on discussion boards or social networking sites, either by creating a nearly empty profile, or setting privacy controls so that no one can see it. Baym's remark that “R.a.t.s. participants are well-educated as in most of the Internet…most read newsgroups at work or at school? (p.105) really dates this piece of writing. Ten years ago, it was much less common to have a connection to the Internet at home. College students and people with computer-related jobs (presumably the most educated people) would have had much more control over online content, and I think the conversation has opened up a lot since then.

In “Friends, Friendsters, and Top 8?, Boyd tells us that “the number of people in one’s network was perceived as directly related to the number of friends one had.? I do think this is still the perception, at least among younger users. I agree with the idea that Top 8 is often wielded as a weapon; I’ve overheard kids talking worriedly about it, and I know of one local high school that has sent home a memo to parents asking them to monitor their children’s computer use, as a number of online disputes have led to fights during the school day. The other point I thought was particularly interesting was that “the users of social networking sites are faced with a conundrum, particularly those who must simultaneously interact with their peers and those who hold power over them.? The kids at my library would be mortified to know I’ve seen their Myspace profiles, full of booty pictures, amateur cussing and fake gangster posturing. Similarly, I couldn’t create an honest profile for myself without alienating some of the students I work with.

Comments

I found the last section of your post very interesting. The threshold of honesty for online communities. As someone who's a professional, there are definite conflicts of interest that could arise from online-social-networking. This says something about how true to life such a community can be.