Online social networking: what’s your perspective?

July 31, 2007 at 3:00 am 3 comments

Taro in ThailandI came across this interesting article in Social Computing Magazine about the different actors, archetypes and discourses that exist in the online social networking world. A number of attempts have been made to map the various cultures prevalent in online worlds. Patrick Lambe of Green Chameleon looked extensively at archetypes in a specific online community and major personas that represent patterns of behaviour have been identified eg Needlers: the type who has a point to make and will make it repeatedly to the point of aggravation; Energy Vampires: a person who drains the energy of an online community perhaps by always taking and not giving back; Elders: the acknowledged expert whose knowledge is respected by the community.

The article outlines 35 online social networking ‘perspectives’ or lenses, which are not strictly archetypes but ways of talking and thinking about social networking. If you are a teenager using MySpace page to stay in touch with friends, for example, the lens through which you look at online worlds might be different from that of an entrepreneur who is looking at ways to market and create business.

I won’t list all 35 perspectives, you can check them out yourself. Some of them are predictable – for example, the Social Perspective – social networking sites help young people to build social relationships and communicate. Or the Paedophile and Predator perspective – social networking is an opportunity to prey on the innocent or vulnerable. But I found some of the other perspectives interesting:

  • The Source Critique perspective: social networking sites force younger people to critically assess and be skeptical of what they read online. Partly I agree with this but only to the extent that people are equipped with critical thinking skills – something I’ve ranted about before.
  • The Bullying perspective: social networking sites are places were people can bully others, be confrontational or intimidating. Aside from the fact I don’t have time to participate in some of the online communities I’d like to, I hesitate to engage in them because the ones I’m a lurker in are full of often ego-fuelled types who jostle for the top spot of being seen as the most intellectual. Dave Snowden had an interesting observation recently – he reminded us of the Dunning-Kruger effect – where people with little knowledge think they know more than people who have more knowledge. I suspect (rightly or wrongly) that social networking sites are clogged with victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect and this leads to chest-beating, arrogant remarks and so on. There’s a book I’ve ordered – The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen – I’m hoping it won’t be one of those broad-brush “I’m having a rant” type books and will have something meaningful to say about what I presume he sees as digital narcissism that potentially leads to the type of bullying and arrogant behaviour we often see in online communities. I’ll let you know what I think of the book in a future post.
  • the Language perspective: online worlds are spaces for the creation of shared language often peppered with misspellings or abbreviations. The Anti-Social perspective will say that this has led to people who cannot write or communicate properly.
  • the Surveillance perspective: well, this is clearly my lens. Social networking sites allow for the Identity perspective – constructing, reconstructing and displaying their self-image and identity, but the downside is that your digital identity is public, open to misuse, monitoring and so on.
  • the Community of Practice perspective – people with a passion for common interests can gather together, discuss, debate and share.

Speaking of surveillance, the article led me off to 21 Perspectives on Surveillance a run-down of the different lenses through which you can slice and dice surveillance from control to invasion of privacy to Little Sister surveillance. Here’s a sense of a few of the perspectives – check the site to read all of them.

  • Big Brother perspective: surveillance is simply a way for Government and private companies to nose around and invade people’s lives – from public webcams to DNA databases and fingerprinting.
  • Foucauldian perspective: surveillance is disciplinary and prison-like.
  • Security perspective: surveillance provides a sense of security and protection for the individual and society.
  • Care perspective: surveillance can provide care and a watchful eye, similar to the kiddie cam in New Zealand I blogged about recently.

The different filters we use in our daily lives informs the way we make sense of the wonderful collage of our physical and online worlds.


Entry filed under: Social networks, Surveillance society, Web 2.0.

Fakes, smugness and denial If you skip to the ending, are you a bad person?

3 Comments Add your own

  • […] Read more: thinkingshift […]

  • 2. Doreen D Flowers  |  March 10, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    I am interested in your views but I can’t stand the overpowering green on your website. You might consider using a less-offensive color.

  • 3. thinkingshift  |  March 11, 2008 at 4:52 am

    Hi Doreen
    I considered changing it awhile back, but I’m afraid I rather like the “offensive green”, green being my favourite colour. But if you’re like me, you read a blog for its content, not its design.


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