I have not tried this yet but it looks useful. Has anyone else used it? If so what do you think?
Net Generation, Google Generation and Digital Native are all terms which conjure up the image of a tech savvy youth whose integration with digital technology has made them a virtually different species than the older digital immigrant, who can barely read an email without printing it off first. These terms have become popular and formed the basis for several assumptions about the behavior and attitudes of young learners, however there are also those that reject the idea of a digital native as they can see that these assumptions are misleading.
” I don’t see a Google Generation or Digital Natives in the learners I work with. Some are using Facebook and other tools, many are not. Those that are, not all are using these tools for learning.” (James Clay)
I have my own understanding on the Net Generation and what this means for education, which is based on Chris Andersons Long Tail theory. First of all I would like to point out that I am using the term generation quite loosely as I don’t think it refers to age. I am talking about the latest wave of learners, no matter what their age. We have all ‘grown up’ with Google, although not necessarily in our childhood. At what age do you stop ‘growing up’?
Instead of thinking about a generic Net Generation as a generic individual, I see this as a generation of individuals and within this generation there are a wide range of different preferences, interests and characteristics. What the internet has done, has allowed differences to flourish in other parts of their lives. So thanks to Amazon, people can chose to read from a wider collection of books, thanks to iTunes and spotify people can choose from a wider collection of music. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most popular titles will change, it just means a number of smaller niches will flourish. In these markets people no longer expect the one size fits all approach of making do with what they can buy at their local shops.
Within education there will be an increasing number of niches as individuals find increasingly diverse ways to learn whether its learning teamwork via world of warcraft or Learning to play the guitar with youtube or learning a language via twitter. This does not mean that the most popular way of learning has changed from classroom participation; it just means that other niches are flourishing.
What does this mean for practitioners?
As many people have said before, the one size fits all approach no longer works in education, maybe it never did. Practitioners could take advantage of this by providing education in a range of formats, but what they can’t do is decide how the learners will learn, as the individuals within this net generation will find their own niches with or without the help of practitioners.
Update July 2014 :
This is the second part of a three part series of articles detailing a case study that I undertook in 2008 as part of a research project into social media and online communication and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
Please also read:
to gain the full picture…
We have discussed in the post Which Online Social Network? how online social networks use the ‘viral expansion loop’ as described by the Ning CEO, to attract new members and this viral expansion brought me to Ning itself.
A colleague had been introduced to Ning by his University, which had created an online social network there as a contact method for its distance students and he subsequently decided that it would be a suitable platform for a project he was about to undertake. This friend then introduced me to Ning.
In order to fully investigate and evaluate the Ning Networks as part of my research into online social networks, I created my own social network – initially as a test bed and a ‘sandbox’ to play around in. I already had Facebook and Myspace accounts and had created accounts in a variety of other social media platforms at around the same time to assist with my general research and get fully involved in the Web 2.0 platform.
From time to time, one’s leisure and study activities converge and that is how this project emerged. At exactly the same time as I was having the difficulties with the forum community and looking to move on, I was also conducting my general Web 2.0 research when I was struck with the idea that I could use my embryonic network for both purposes.
It would provide a new home for those ‘Chiggy’ refugees who had also become disenchanted with the discordant atmosphere prevailing in the forums and the Change Management process involved in the move from Web 1.0 forums to Web 2.0 online social networks and the attendant other new social media, could be observed and documented as a case study for this research project.
I knew from my previous studies of change management that the upheaval would be a considerable challenge for many of the members of the old forums because quite a few of them were fairly new to the web and computers in general and had only recently mastered the art of forum posting. I didn’t realise at that point though, just how difficult some people would find the new system and how hostile they would be towards the differences, but more on this later.
I was unsure of the best way to tactfully initiate the change process, because I knew that I only wanted to invite certain members of the private forum that I had formed bonds with and not others that I did not particularly like. I also wanted to avoid awkwardness with the founding members, because I knew they would not want to leave the forum. I decided to send a private message to all ‘chosen’ members setting out my reasons for leaving and explaining what I was trying to do. I was rather worried that people would have negative connotations of research in terms of experimentation and mental images of rats and mice in cages, so felt it was better to play down the research aspect.
In so doing, I had forgotten the important lessons learned when studying the Hawthorne Effect which is the proposition that people generally perform better if they feel involved and important. In research terms, it means letting your subjects know that they are valuable to your research and then they are more likely to co-operate willingly and enthusiastically. This glaring omission on my part proved to be quite disastrous in a way that was not anticipated at all and perhaps really should have been.
Therefore, this private message mentioned my research project, but also spoke about feeling personally undervalued, wanting to move on, having found a new home for the group and that we could all have some fun away from the negativity of that forum. Crucially in view of later events, the message also stated that some members of the forum were not being informed because I felt that they would disrupt the harmony of the new network and it would be better if they were kept in ignorance of its existence.
The fact that the new online social network was somewhat embryonic and that the job of the group members as research subjects was to go in, try everything out and report back to me on their findings whether positive or negative was not sufficiently stressed by me, because I made the rather foolish assumption that this would be completely understood and as obvious to everyone as it was to me.
Naturally, I now realise that things are never as obvious to other people as they are to you and that you need to explain clearly and without ambiguity exactly what it is you are expecting of people, to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.
David Drennan1 said that “The reactions of employees to any event will be favourable only if it matches or exceeds their expectations.” Therefore, the group members who were being asked to participate in the research project needed to know exactly what to expect and perhaps even more importantly, what was expected of them in this new venture. This patently was not the case, because expectations were raised when the message was sent out inviting members to participate in an exciting new challenge and have ‘lots of fun’ in the process.
Unfortunately, the actual network itself fell so far short of expectations raised, that the negative reaction of the group was considerably greater than it would have been if they had been expecting something strange, different and embryonic, knowing that their role was to make sense of it and report back on their findings.
Professor Drennan goes on to say two more things regarding expectations: “Where an announcement will fall short of expectations; either improve the content until it does match expectations, or take time to reduce expectations to the level of the subsequent announcement.” and finally: “Preparing employees for unwelcome news i.e. moving expectations in a negative direction, requires time and sensitive handling.”
Had this excellent advice been followed by me, much of the initial disappointment and dissatisfaction may have been avoided or at the very least, minimised!
The first few members seemed a bit bemused although not totally hostile at that point, but one of them got the hang of things pretty quickly and had customised her page, added photos and started to go round to other members’ pages leaving comments on their comment walls. She then began to send messages to me via the private message system, which, it must be said, was rather basic and a bit difficult to master, so I was extremely impressed and asked her if she would like to help out and become an administrator in the network. I had managed to pressgang my son and other members of my family into joining the network but they did not really know any of the ‘Chiggy’ group, so it was a real bonus to have someone who both knew everyone and had quickly grasped the rudiments of the network on my side and I was very pleased when she agreed to do so. The next day, I sent out a few more invitation messages including some via Myspace.
A few months previously, a Big Brother housemate – who had been a Myspace user for some time prior to going on BB – began using Myspace ‘friend’ bulletins to communicate with her supporters and this had led to an influx of people in our ‘Chiggy’ group joining Myspace to add her as a friend. We all added each other as friends and this offered us an additional private method of communication. It was because so many of our group had joined Myspace and some had even joined Facebook, that I had been fairly confident that they would be able to cope with the Ning online social network just as well.
Throughout that first day people continued arriving in dribs and drabs and although many expressed confusion, most people managed to set up their pages and start hesitantly chatting via their comment walls. This was the only level of discussion that was taking place at that time although a main forum and some groups for the housemates and Big Brother had already been created prior to opening. Member numbers were growing satisfactorily although quite a few people merely joined without posting and I was contentedly pottering around when I was made aware of the fact that the founding members of the private forum were unhappy with the way I had selectively invited some members and not others to join the new network and a rather unseemly war of words took place culminating with those who had joined the network being accused of merely being guinea pigs in my experiment.
Unfortunately, this had a marked effect on the group. Many members felt stung, disloyal and uncomfortable at being labelled ‘guinea pigs’. This was doubly ironic, because having played down the research aspect, the Hawthorne Effect of feeling special and valued was not able to counteract this discomfort at feeling used and experimented upon.
Sadly, I had seriously underestimated the strength of loyalty felt by group members towards the leaders and had made the fatal mistake of appearing to be attempting a ‘coup’ without ensuring that I had the total backing of the ‘rebel faction’ so to speak. I had tried to steer a middle course between breaking away totally and forming a splinter group and keeping both venues operating without all group members being completely in the picture. With hindsight, this was obviously a recipe for disaster. If I had been more selective with the recipients of the message and only sent it to known dissenters, this would have no doubt proved to be more successful. We would all have quietly left the forum leaving the founders with their own loyal supporters group and the subsequent ramifications would not have taken place.
Thus, after the first rather stressful weekend in the new network, I decided to take stock, have a look around and see who was left.
There was a definite undercurrent of confusion about the new surroundings, even amongst those members who were generally favourably disposed to the new group and the move away from the forum as the following snippets from the comment walls on various pages show:
During the first week I realised that although around forty people had joined the network in the initial tranche, six of those people were members of my own family who had joined at my behest (but would probably only be occasional posters) and at least eighteen others were known ‘legitimate peripheral participants’ in other communities. It was somewhat unreasonable to assume that they would all suddenly change their ‘modus operandi’ overnight and become prolific posters. Five members who had initially been active participants stopped posting completely after the drama of the opening weekend and I assumed that they had left and returned to the forum. Six more members ceased posting after a week or so, but did not return to the forum. Their current whereabouts are still something of a mystery but they are probably posting on myspace, facebook and other private forums. I have subsequently learned that several more private forums have been created by some of these members specifically to discuss the media activities of particulasr housemates and this probably accounts for the missing members.
Therefore, if the network was going to thrive, it needed an influx of technically able, less single-focus members, preferably a little younger than the BB group, to add some dynamism and youthful enthusiasm to the proceedings. I hoped that some ‘new blood’ would breathe more life into the place by creating groups, starting forum discussions and so on. I decided to utilise my social networking skills and reach out to my student friends on Facebook. This resulted in seven more members joining in early April. I suspect that the timing of my invitation was a little unfortunate, coming as it did in the middle of exam revision, dissertations and assignment completion, which is why this trawl did not yield better results. To the credit of those who did join however, they did make an effort in joining in and contributing as these further extracts from my comment wall illustrate:
Questionnaires were sent by email to each individual member on 15th April and out of 49 questionnaires sent out, 13 were returned. As this was only designed to provide a snapshot of members’ views and wasn’t intended to form the basis of a quantitative study, a series of fairly open questions were asked about members’ attitudes to the new social network…whether they had contributed and if so in what way..(commenting, discussing, adding media, customising their pages) what they liked, didn’t like, how it could be improved upon and so on. I thought that if enough responses were received it might prove possible to undertake some statistical analysis on the data, but in the event the response rate was so low and so uniform, that this exercise would have been statistically worthless. The 13 respondents were family, students and those few members who have remained ‘Key Contributors’ to the group. All of whom responded that they liked and enjoyed using the social network and had contributed in all the ways listed. No responses were received from any members who had ceased contributing or had only ever lurked. This was of course completely unsurprising, because most people are reluctant to offer negative feedback unless under the cover of anonymity and even then, it is often a struggle to elicit sufficient response as to render the data meaningful.
It is now fairly obvious that most of the Big Brother supporters have drifted away and are probably unlikely to return. I had originally assumed that because I knew that many of the BB group members posted in more than one place on a regular basis – Myspace, Facebook, several public and private forums to name but a few, they could add the new Ning network to the list without too much difficulty. I knew that a small sub-group of members wanted to leave both the private forum and them main public forum anyway, so expected that they might spend more time in the network and had also thought that if a reasonably large number of members all spent a small amount of time in the network each day, this would keep the activity levels up and would encourage further participation by others.
Several years’ worth of experience in forums and communities should really have told me that this desirable state of affairs is quite rare in all but the busiest and most popular communities and that most are kept afloat by the sterling efforts of a few committed members or Key Contributors. When even these few stalwarts give up the ghost and move away, the forum/network/community simply falls apart.
This is now what has happened with the Ning network created for the research project. Although new blood was brought in when the BB group decided that the network wasnt for them, a combination of factors resulted in these people also drifting off and the network has all but died at the present time.
See Part 1: The Community for details of the community and the background to the research project.
The aftermath of the project and lessons learned are discussed in Part 3: Aftermath and Conclusions.
1 Drennan, David. (1991) ‘Communication and Employee Motivation’, Personnel Management.
Update June 2014: A full list of all the posts in the original social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
Update July 2014 :
This is Part 1 of a three part series of articles detailing a case study that I undertook in 2008 as part of a research project into social media and online communication and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
Please also read:
to gain the full picture…
When I was deciding upon a suitable topic for my dissertation, (extracts from which can be read in other posts on this blog) I decided that a rewarding area of research would be to investigate the social side of the web and to attempt to prove my theory that social communication online mirrors social communication offline and has done so from the very early days of online communities right up to the latest revolution in online social networks. That the internet has in effect come full circle with the new emphasis on people, user generated content and social communication but that online communities have remained the same, it is merely the platforms they operate in that have changed.
Online Communities may be defined as follows:
- Communities of Purpose – members are trying to achieve a similar objective.
- Communities of Circumstance – generally more personally focused.
- Communities of Interest – united by a common theme or interest but whose members may know very little about each other outside this shared interest.
- Communities of Users – beginning to be developed by some of the more innovative business networks to engage with their customers in a more informal, interactive way than had hitherto been the case.
- Communities of Practice – perhaps the most well-known and researched in academic circles – these are communities of people who are engaged in the same profession, vocation or ‘practice’ – they facilitate professional exchanges which may also add value to offline networks.
The initial motivation for undertaking this particular project was the desire to move a splinter group of an existing online community of interest from a Web 1.0 forum to a newly created online social network. The decision to move to a social network on the new Web 2.0 platform rather than another Web 1.0 forum, was made because it was instinctively felt that the members of the current forum who were principally interested in the social science of observation and analysis of behavioural patterns, albeit through the 24/7 observation of the housemates in the television show Big Brother via the TV or Internet Live Feed, would also be interested in and embrace the enhanced social aspects of the Web 2.0 software. It was expected that change management issues would be of great significance at all stages of the move and it was decided that this would be a rewarding subject for in-depth study.
The Case Study.
The story ostensibly began in the summer of 2007 with the launch of the reality TV program Big Brother UK, but had its roots back in 2003 when I first joined a Big Brother forum on a large public website.
Initially, I contented myself with what has been described as ‘Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ (Lave and Wenger)1 which, in the world of online communities, is more colloquially termed ‘lurking’.
I watched the programs on the TV, subscribed to the 24/7 Internet Live Feed from the Big Brother House and read the threads in the forums where members discussed and analysed the housemates’ actions and behaviour. After a little while, I felt sufficiently confident and knowledgeable to begin to join in these discussions and moved from a ‘lurker’ to a ‘newbie’ – literally a new poster in the forums. Over the years, I increased my level of participation through every series of BB, until I had become something of an expert on the subject and had raised myself to the level of ‘practitioner’ in the community where I was able to help and guide other, newer members of the forums and became a ‘Key Contributor’.
The diagram below that was designed for the Lurker Project, illustrates the three types of people who may be found in an online community.
When I was not absorbed in Big Brother, I was developing a keen interest in the Internet and the web and set about increasing my knowledge by creating, designing and developing websites, whilst also becoming fairly proficient in the creation of web graphics. This interest in web graphics led me to open my own graphics website and I began to write tutorials and build up a large collection of resources on the subject. Gradually, the resources and the tutorials broadened their scope to include more general topics related to web development and the Internet in general. In this way, I became particularly fascinated by the new Web 2.0 social media that was beginning to make its appearance on the internet and had already begun to dabble in some of these areas by the summer of 2007 when Big Brother was launched.
Many members of the BB forums were absorbed by the turbulent relationship of two of the housemates in that season – and a number of us began posting regularly in the ‘XXXX’ thread throughout the summer and autumn as we continued to follow their media activities outside of the BB House. In the ‘post-XXXX’ era (after the relationship between the two housemates had ended acrimoniously with a ‘Kiss and Tell’ story in the Sunday newspapers), followers of the relationship split into two camps. This led to a war of words ensuing in the BB forums (dubbed the ‘XXXX Wars’) and in an attempt to restore harmony to the general BB forums, moderators eventually forcibly split the two groups into separate Appreciation Threads, where supporters could converse and share information. Those members who had supported both parties continued posting in the joint appreciation thread. Unfortunately however, this thread was continuously ‘invaded’ by supporters of each individual housemate and was eventually closed.
The small nucleus of remaining ‘XXXX’ supporters thus found themselves metaphorically ‘homeless’ and I started a new ‘refugee’ thread in a general forum to allow us to chat quietly amongst ourselves, away from the warring factions. After a short time though, we were ‘discovered’ and the previous discordant atmosphere was replicated in the ‘refugee’ thread. The moderators had no choice but to close this thread as well and we were advised against creating any more similar threads for obvious reasons.
At this point one of our group members contacted us all via private message to tell us that a new private forum away from the public website had been created for us to use. Membership of the forum was by invitation only and this was to be limited to our small ‘XXXX’ refugee group.
However, it very quickly became apparent that invitations were being passed on to virtually everyone who had ever posted in the Big Brother forums about either housemate.
Naturally, this soon resulted in the disharmony that had been such a problem in the BB forums being transferred to the new private forum. There were some major differences however, because the public forums are very heavily and anonymously moderated with miscreants being summarily banned from the forums, either temporarily or permanently.
The new private forum consisted of several different boards catering for a variety of entertainment interests as well as just ‘XXXX’. Individual boards for both halves of ‘XXXX’ were created to ensure that members would not squabble amongst themselves as had been the case in the public BB forum. Unfortunately, the ‘one size fits all’ mentality of only posting in one single ‘on-topic’ thread on one board that the group had become accustomed to on the public BB forum remained ingrained into the psyche of most members of the new forum and they all clustered into the one joint thread and refused to move out.
The idea of posting in the one thread would have been perfectly fine if membership had been restricted as originally envisaged. The fact that a more diverse group of people had joined caused problems from the outset. I likened it at the time to a large family wedding when a number of family members who do not really get on with each other are herded together into a crowded room and forced to co-exist. One is fortunate if several fights have not broken out by the end of the evening!
Anarchy was threatening to take over due to this ‘family wedding’ atmosphere, so I offered to help out. I had operated several similar forums on my own websites in the past and thought that I could easily take some of the pressure off by running the administration control panel and undertaking some moderating duties in the forum. What I failed to realise and this only became clear to me much later on, was that my general approach to the group as a whole was completely at odds with that of the founding members and that my offer of assistance was only accepted out of desperation. With the benefit of hindsight, my intervention, far from being the cavalry turning up to save the day as I had rather naively and optimistically hoped, merely placed a sticking plaster on a deep wound that actually required major surgery to allow the healing process to take place.
The group that formed over the shared bonding experience of following the fortunes of ‘XXXX’ was a somewhat idiosyncratic, extremely diverse collection of people although the majority of members were females between the ages of 35 and 65. Many of these people were highly opinionated and became incredibly passionate in their devotion to and defence of one or other of these housemates. Perhaps because two of the housemates remained in the public eye for longer than is normally the case, the supporters group also stayed together longer, and deeper friendships were formed.
This goes some way to explain why so many of us moved across to this forum and why so many of the members continued to squabble and attempt to settle old scores when they got there. They had been restricted from doing so in the public BB forum under the threat of a lifetime posting ban – the management style there was very authoritarian, with members being treated in a similar manner as employees on a production line having no say whatsoever in the process. Threads were summarily closed, posts removed and entire chunks of conversation deleted if they became contentious. Forum moderation is anonymous and autocratic with little or no right of appeal.
On reflection, I can now see that most people moved to the new forum with a sense of release and a feeling that they would be afforded ‘freedom of expression’ as one member succinctly put it, without the draconian moderation of the public forums. They did not want to be moderated, organised and controlled and revelled in the new freedoms. However, with freedom comes responsibility and I think it was widely expected that people would use these new freedoms sensibly and responsibly, without any real need for management or supervision. Unfortunately, some members took full advantage of this relaxed atmosphere and this was when anarchy began to take over. I set about attempting to impose some rules and regulations and this had the sticking plaster effect as described above, for a short time.
Meanwhile, some people continued to flout the terms and conditions on other public forums to the point where they were banned for life from posting in public forums. A few members got round this by creating new online personas, but others did not and were forced to decamp permanently to the new private forum.
One fascinating fact about online personas is that they are often (but not always) quite different from the person’s real offline personality. It has been observed that extrovert personality types are less comfortable in an online persona than introverts, perhaps because they need to be seen and heard and are used to being the centre of attention. Introverts by contrast, find it easier to hide behind a computer screen and develop a much more aggressive, lively or passionate persona online than the one that they exhibit in the real world. I can only conclude that this must be the case with some members of the XXXX group, because if they exhibited the same aggression and combativeness offline as they did online, they would all either be high-powered CEOs running multi-national companies or part of a criminal underworld! The fact that most have ordinary jobs and families and are probably nice, mild-mannered folk generally, lends a certain credence to the above argument about on and offline personas.
As the atmosphere in the forum worsened, my role amounted to little more than a daily routine of fire-fighting with no back-up. Finally, things became so bad that I decided that it was ridiculous to spend all my free time doing something that was supposed to be enjoyable, but had become unpleasant and was making me unhappy. It slowly dawned on me that I was being over-worked, under-valued and used for my technical ability, but that I was not really wanted in the role I was performing. I knew then that it was time for me to leave, but had got so used to spending all my time with some people that I had grown quite fond of, that I wondered if there was some way that this friendship could be continued in surroundings that were more conducive to fun and enjoyment.
This is when I had the idea that I might be able to combine leisure and research in the form of a new online social network.
1 Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.
Update June 2014: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
Update July 2014:
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
An online social network or social networking site, as they are sometimes called, is the Web 2.0 version of the “virtual community,” a group of people who use the Internet to communicate with each other about anything and everything.
Such networks require users to join and become members before participating in the community. Members can communicate with each other by way of comment walls, forum postings, chat, instant messaging, bulletins and blogs, and these services usually provide a way for members to contact friends of other members.
This is a very new area of social media – even in web terms – Facebook was initially created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg to enable students in Harvard University to connect with each other online. The term ‘Facebook’ incidentally, although initially unfamiliar to British ears, refers to the book of ‘faces’ (photos) of all members of a campus community given out by some American colleges and schools to enable new students to instantly recognise college staff.
This was expanded to include all student networks by the end of 2005 and finally it was opened to all in 2006.
It remains very popular among university and college networks and offers a simple method of almost internal communication between students themselves, their lecturers and student unions. Each educational establishment has its own network which only registered students and staff are permitted to join. Privacy options may be set so that this is kept very private or may be open to all.
All non-student users are required to join one geographical network only. This is generally the area in which one resides, allowing for social and business networking within a local area. Students may join their local geographical network as well as their education network. Users are encouraged to make contact with and become ‘friends’ of, other users in any network however, thus facilitating both local, national and international communication.
Facebook has the standard set of features of a modern social network; comment walls, videos, photos, friends, RSS activity feed, interest groups and so on, but also allows third party developers to create their own ‘apps’ or applications which integrate within the Facebook API (application programming interface). This is another example of user generated content, albeit of a more technical nature than most. These applications were originally rather facile and tended to merely offer amusement value to bored students, but they are now maturing into quite useful sophisticated additions to one’s profile and of course, the fun content is still widely available.
Additionally, developers are now creating applications (sometimes known as widgets or gadgets) to integrate other social media within Facebook and begin the process of meshing all one’s social media outlets together in a similar way to that discussed in my post Exploring Social Media – Facebook is included in the social aggregation graphic in that article for that very reason.
As noted at the end of an earlier article, Evolution to the Web, Myspace, Google and Yahoo are all now collaborating in the OpenSocial project to create similar third party applications which may be integrated into a wide range of social network sites, and Facebook is now getting in on the act with its own Facebook Open Platform.
Myspace was started in 2003 by a group of eUniverse employees who wanted to compete with the first social networking site (Friendster) launched in 2002. eUniverse was renamed Intermix Media and became the parent company of Myspace. Intermix Media was an internet marketing company which used its own employees and resources to set up Myspace and its 20 million users and email subscribers to attract users. Intermix Media (including Myspace) was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2005 for $580m, to become a part of Fox Interactive Media, which also owns Photobucket, (online image storage and hosting).
Friendster is still functioning as a social network but, due to a catalogue of business and management difficulties has fallen to 13th place in the list of social networks in the US and has a market share of just 0.3 percent.
Myspace feels much more commercial in tone and nature than Facebook, perhaps due to its more business-like origins and uses fairly obtrusive advertising on all its pages as its main revenue stream. This has not deterred the majority of its 110 million users from becoming enthusiastic participants in the site however.
In fact the majority of users have taken their cue from the very busy and lively tone of the myspace home pages and have delighted in filling their own pages with as many videos, slideshows and glittery animated graphics as possible.
The sheer size of such graphics has often resulted in bandwidth problems with ‘technical error pages’ occurring at certain busy times of day, but to date Myspace has not set any limits to the amount of content a user may add to their pages, in order to counteract this issue.
Myspace promotes itself as being a ‘place for friends’ and asserts that ‘myspace is for everyone’. Users have their own myspace page to which they can add music, videos, images, themes and more recently, third party applications similar to Facebook. Myspace contacts are also Friends but do not belong to networks in the way that Facebook users do.
Myspace users can join groups and forums, send private messages, write comments, blogs and bulletins and use MyspaceIM, (Myspace Instant Messenger) Chat Rooms, Myspace Mobile and text to keep in touch with friends.
Additionally, there is a large and growing entertainment section comprising music, TV, films, showbiz and games to occupy and entertain users.
Due to its extreme popularity and high profile amongst young people in particular, many up and coming bands and embryonic celebrities are using myspace as a form of free advertising and publicity to very good effect. Users enjoy having the opportunity to befriend and send messages to well-known and famous people, knowing that their comments could appear on the celebrity’s pages and that they might even receive a personal message in response. Bands can send out bulletins detailing latest tour dates and upload selected music tracks that users can add to their own pages thus offering the chance to sample new releases prior to purchase or download.
Interestingly, one can note the rise in popularity of social networking sites by looking at the Alexa.com Top Global 500 Websites list – ranked by website traffic or visits. Yahoo, Google and Youtube are the top three respectively, whilst Myspace is now the 6th ranking website with Facebook and Blogger coming in at a very respectable 7th and 8th position.
Blogger.com is presumably the most visited blogging site due to an obvious name and ease of use for newcomers to blogging. Live Journal by contrast, although still fairly popular (ranked in 56th position) is considerably more complicated to learn and although much loved by its regular users is not recommended for those new to the web. The theme of ease of use and relative popularity of the new social media sites will be explored in greater detail in forthcoming articles.
There are other social networking sites of course, but a trawl through the entire Alexa Global 500 reveals very few with such reach and popularity.
Whilst researching for these articles, several targeted networks were identified and examined, including:
TBD.com (To Be Determined) is an American-based network for persons aged 40+, (traffic rank on Alexa of 81,185 on 5th May 2008). It was noted that the policy of the network’s founder was to lightly moderate and allow discussions on all topics…religion and politics seemed to be topics that occasioned a certain amount of volatility and caused some of the more sensitive members to feel bullied and just quietly leave. It is perhaps understandable that such topics are often considered taboo on other general networks and communities where there are likely to be members with a range of different views and opinions.
At the other end of the scale there are ‘teen networks’ such as Bebo.com (traffic rank on Alexa of 108 on 5th May 2008). (popular with British schoolchildren) and Tagged.com (traffic rank on Alexa of 236 on 5th May 2008). (whose members now seem to have a broader age range than was perhaps envisaged at its start-up in 2006). This may be due to the fact that at this time, corporate buyers and venture capitalists were keen to invest money in any online social project that would be likely to attract the elusive, (but potentially highly profitable to advertisers) demographic of the under-25s. Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of Myspace, which is very popular with this age group, appeared to precipitate this trend.
MOLI.com promotes itself as a ‘next generation’ social networking site that offers members the chance to manage multiple profiles under one account. The proposed advantage of this is to be able to keep one’s business, social and family contacts separate, but easily accessible in one portal. The network is open to adults over the age of 18 only (although there is a MOLI Kids spin-off for children aged 5 and over, aimed at creating “Kidpreneurs’’ – teaching children about business in a fun and relevant way) and the specific market segment they are targeting is ‘enterprising individuals and small businesses’. Along with all the usual Web 2.0 social network features as detailed above, users have the opportunity to add ecommerce facilities for £2 per month. At present this is still a rather embryonic network, (ranked at 26,851 on Alexa on 5th May 2008), but as with all new enterprises, it could become the next myspace or disappear into oblivion.
The online social network that was chosen for a case study on social online change management – which will be discussed in future articles – is Ning.com, (ranked at 566 on Alexa on 5th May 2008).
Ning is one of the newer networks – opened to all in February 2007 after a lengthy period of testing from 2006 – but has impeccable web credentials. The company CEO and founder is Marc Andreessen – discussed in earlier articles as the creator of the Mosaic and Netscape browsers and whose blog is linked on my blogroll.
Ning has been in the tech news recently after raising $60m net on a $500 million pre-money valuation.
This has brought some criticism from various commentators and has occasioned an interesting debate about the probable ‘over-valuation’, longevity and sustainability of many of the newer social media sites and whether a second ‘dot com’ bubble is likely to burst in the near future.
Ning CEO Marc Andreessen was interviewed by the magazine Fast Company for the May 2008 issue and explained that the growth rate of Ning is based on a ‘viral expansion loop’ which is apparently what is used in all the social networking sites and may explain the phenomenal explosion of members in some of the most popular networks. The following image illustrates graphically what is meant by this concept. It is basically that of friends inviting their friends who invite their friends who invite their friends….and on and on it goes.
In the case of the Ning diagram, in some networks most members are invited by the creator (the one in the case study falls into this category). When users subsequently invite new members to join, new clusters are formed in the viral chain. Each white dot represents one user in a single network. Each starburst represents the extent and pattern of that user’s invitations to new users across all networks throughout Ning. This viral effect means that each member is equal to two new users compounded daily. In this way Ning has grown from 60,000 networks in June 2007 to 130,000 networks in May 2008, and this growth rate continues apace.
Ning operates in a slightly different manner from Facebook and Myspace in that the Ning Network itself provides the infrastructure or framework for a multitude of self-contained, individual social networks – ‘nets’ as they are rather affectionately called by Ning themselves – to be created within this framework. Each individual net has its own identity, members, groups, forums, photo albums and so on, which are quite separate from any other ‘nets’ hosted on the Ning Network. Initially an individual net or community is joined by providing a username and password and creating a ‘login’. This login also serves as a ‘Ning ID’ which can then be used to join any number of other individual communities as desired. Ning also operates the ‘Friends’ system and this is where it converges with other social networks in that Friends are held by the Ning ID and can be friends across all Ning ‘nets’.
A side-note about the online ID system is that a new OpenID is now being promoted by a number of providers in which a single secure ’sign-in’ allows access to a wide range of different social media, thus increasing security and convenience for users for whom creating and remembering multiple logins is becoming an increasing nuisance. Already, OpenID has been adopted by over 10,000 websites and this figure is increasing all the time.
An earlier example of such an ID is that of an MSN passport which could be used to sign up for a number of different MSN communities which were very similar in tone and nature to that of Ning networks, but without the ‘Friends’ aspect, which does seem to be a very ‘web 2.0’ concept. The only real difference is that the technology has moved on, but the fundamental principle of belonging to a community, whether of ‘interest’ or of ‘practice’ remains the same.
Thus far, this series of articles has focussed on the changing technologies that have enabled people to communicate with others electronically, irrespective of geographical location. However, online communication isn’t just about the media used, of course.
In fact – particularly in this latest era when the focus is very much upon ‘social media’ and ‘user generated content’ – it is more about the people who are actually using these technologies than ever before and what is sometimes forgotten, is the fact that not everyone embraces change with as much enthusiasm as the ‘early adopters’ those ‘technologically able’ users who are often referred to as the ‘movers and shakers’ on the web. Maybe one or two of you are actually reading this article now!
This area particularly interests me personally and will be specifically addressed in future articles when change management as it relates to the online environment is explored in the case study referred to above.
Update July 2014: A full list of all the posts in the original social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA