Social Networks "Flatten" Social Structures

Visibility has its cost; in order to make broader social networks vis- ible, Friendster flattens those networks, collapsing relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous “Friend.” More problematically, Friendster does not provide ways of mapping or interpreting the contextual cues and social structural boundaries that help people manage their social worlds. Physi- cal distance, to abstract from the obvious, is not just an obstacle to build- ing social relations but is also the dimension in which different social con- texts and norms are deployed. The distance between the office and the pub is not just a practical convenience but also a tool for interpreting and main- taining boundaries between connected social worlds. Because Friendster draws from everyday social networks, it incorporates these differences and boundaries while greatly diminishing people’s abilities to manage them. This was hardly fatal to the Friendster phenomenon, but it helps explain many of the subsequent developments within the network. It illustrates an inverse relationship between the scalability and manageability of social networks— a structure of participation that marks these very early stages of social software development.

Not surprisingly, participants responded to the lack of differentiat- ing texture and shared reference points in Friendster’s flattened social net- works by negotiating new social norms and rules of conduct, communicable through the existing features of the system. This articulation of identity and relationships was a new challenge for most participants, and was accompa- nied by uncertainty about how to formalize or broadcast their social judg- ments without rupturing trust or destroying relationships. Partially flattened social structures are a fact of everyday life (e.g., when friends and family and colleagues come together), but experiences with them are often uncom- fortable, particularly when the collision of separate networks is unexpected. Digital worlds increase the likelihood and frequency of collapses and require participants to determine how to manage their own performance and the interactions between disparate groups.

Wading through new forms of individual and community interactions can be both terrifying and exhilarating. Although adults have become accus- tomed to ritualized ways of interacting, the foreign nature of social structure is a fundamental part of childhood. Children play in order to make meaning out of social cues and to understand the boundaries of social norms. Because Friendster requires participants to reassess social boundaries and limitations, it is not surprising that play became an essential aspect of participation, as users worked out social norms and reinserted valuable missing social cues. The early adoption of Friendster was riddled with playful interactions, most notably the proliferation of “Fakesters”—invented profiles used, among other things, to help signal group and cultural identification and allow people to play within the system.


They create a new form of interaction, where people do not know the rules; therefore, they resort to experimentation to learn how to interact.

Folksonomies: information technology social networking

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Sociology (0.965161): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Social network (0.469207): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Structure (0.468339): dbpedia | freebase
Social structure (0.398197): dbpedia | freebase
Agency (0.382725): dbpedia | freebase
Interaction (0.311648): dbpedia | freebase
Participation (0.279168): dbpedia

 None of This is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book Chapter:  Boyd, Danah (2007), None of This is Real: Identity and Participation in Friendster, Retrieved on 2013-08-05
Folksonomies: social networking social structures