danah boyd is a researcher specializing in social issues surrounding new technology, particularly social networking. In a recent blog post, she discusses differences in the cultures of Facebook and Twitter status updates. She points out that despite their superificial similarities, these two networks have different norms with respect to the directionality of communication:
Facebook’s social graph is undirected. What this means is that if I want to be Friends with you on Facebook, you have to agree that we are indeed Friends. Reciprocity is an essential cultural practice in Facebook… Twitter, on the other hand, is fundamentally set up to support directionality. I can follow you without you following me.
She goes on to discuss how these differences in directionality affect the way we present ourselves and the cultural norms that develop on these two different networking services. (Read the full post.)
I found it really interesting to read boyd’s analysis, as it matches up well with my own experience with the two sites, but in ways that I had never been consciously aware of. More generally, I’m really excited about the fact that people are taking social networking and other new media seriously as a subject for research. There is a tendency among some to dismiss these services as all the same, and as poor substitutes for “real” face-to-face interactions. In highlighting the ways in which social norms can develop around new media, boyd’s research also demonstrates the unique role that social networking can play in our lives–not replacing but rather augmenting our other forms of social interaction.