In addition to general reading on social networking, we explored the Pew and HomeNet Projects, a series of studies of Internet usage in the home. Some important trends include:
- Gender: Men prefer entertainment while women prefer to focus on connections.
- Age: Older users want something productive while younger users want something social.
- Strength of Online Relationships: The Internet supports acquaintance relationships much better than close friendships.
Social Networking Theory
Based on readings and seminar discussions from a social networking class, several important theories emerged:
- Similarity and interests become more important online than physical proximity
- Social network usage is contagious. People join on a single suggestion, but require more motivation to continue use.
- The connections listed in any single online service are incomplete.
- Simple connections do not mirror the complex nature of real relationships.
We classified 39 current social networking applications on over one hundred specific criteria and six qualitative dimensions. Analysis of the data produced the following findings:
- Individual sites frequently address multiple purposes, such as business (jobs, networking, and projects), dating (relationships, love, and sex), and personal (sharing, maintaining, and establishing).
- Sites differ in the type of content and amount of shared personal material.
- Sites vary in their level of focus on making new connections and/or maintaining connections.
- Sites tend to emphasize connection over expression, while market successes can be found in varying positions.
By examining the positive and negative aspects of the social networks we classified, we identified many considerations for future work:
Summary of the Negative Attributes
- Arbitrary limitations due to marketing plan or business model
- Interface, clutter of information, unappealing appearance, or slow load time
- Lack of flexible search
- Presenting information not linked to interests or contacts
- Too much or too little control over permissions and data
- Lengthy registration requirements
Summary of Positive Attributes
- Presentation of relevant/local information, solicited or not
- Quick registration followed by optional checklist of tasks
- Summarized and customizable security information, privacy control
- Integration with other sites; Consolidation when it leads to ease of use
- Broad range of features presented in an unobtrusive manner
- Singular, well implemented, and specific purpose
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