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Friday, December 28, 2007

Oral culture online

You know how most communication, story-telling, and history used to be oral? Well, with social networking, humanity may be coming full circle. "Academic researchers are starting to [explore] the parallels between online social networks and tribal societies," the New York Times reports. "In the collective patter of profile-surfing, messaging and 'friending,' they see the resurgence of ancient patterns of oral communication. The growth of social networks - and the Internet as a whole - stems largely from an outpouring of expression that often feels more like 'talking' than writing: blog posts, comments, homemade videos and, lately, an outpouring of epigrammatic one-liners broadcast using services like Twitter and Facebook status updates." The Times tells of cultural anthropology Prof. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University who at one time lived with a tribe in Papua New Guinea, "studying how people forge social relationships in a purely oral culture." Dr. Wesch "applies the same ethnographic research methods to the rites and rituals of Facebook users."


The social Web Petri dish

Social-networking sites are important Petri dishes. By studying the social Web, researchers are learning a lot about how people interact - not just about how they do so now and online but about human interaction in general. In fact, research in social-networking sites "may be more accurate than personal information offered elsewhere online, such as chat room profiles, because [it's] based in real-world relationships that originate in confined communities like campuses," reports the New York Times, referring to a UCLA- and Harvard-based study of 1,700 Facebook users in the junior class of one northeastern US college. One of the things they're looking at: "weak ties," those between, say, two classmates or people who meet at a big party. "Weak ties are significant, scholars say, because they are likely to provide people with new perspectives and opportunities that they might not get from close friends and family." According to the Times, "social scientists at Indiana, Northwestern, Pennsylvania State, Tufts, the University of Texas and other institutions are mining Facebook to test traditional theories in their fields about relationships, identity, self-esteem, popularity, collective action, race and political engagement. The Washington Post recently ran a gossipy piece about the fledgling social-media research community which got some reaction in the academic blogosphere (e.g., ), but it does name a number of the individual researchers and projects working on the social Web right now. Back to the Harvard-UCLA project: An important concept they're exploring is "triadic closure," "first put forth by the pioneering German sociologist Georg Simmel … whether one’s friends are also friends of one another. If this seems trivial, consider that a study in 2004 in The American Journal of Public Health suggested that adolescent girls who are socially isolated and whose friends are not friends with one another experienced more suicidal thoughts."


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Politician's profile deleted

It was Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, a British member of Parliament, whose Facebook page was deleted after someone sent in an abuse report calling it an imposter profile. Soon there was a Facebook group called "Steve Webb is Real!", CNET reports. His profile was shortly reinstated, to the satisfaction of his 2,500 Facebook friends and constitutents. But what's interesting about all this is that on the social Web it's sometimes as hard to prove there's a real person behind a profile as it is to prove there isn't. [See also "Extreme cyberbullying: US case comes to light."]

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New features afoot at MySpace

MySpace plans to be people's dashboard for navigating cyberspace, USATODAY reports - the place "where they can check in on the activities of friends, peruse email, get the latest on news and weather, and post their favorite photos and videos." To deal with the growing threat Facebook represents to MySpace, USATODAY says, the latter is projecting itself as a place for self-expression rather than being the social "utility" it says Facebook is (Facebook declined comment for the story). There are 6 million bands registered on MySpace, USATODAY adds. Other plans for 2008 include: giving members "the option of creating multiple profiles tailored to friends, family and business associates. A channel with Oberon Media, a maker of multiplayer games, is in the works for the first half of 2008. MySpace unveiled a service that lets MySpace members make free Internet phone calls through Skype (EBAY). And it just unfurled Transmissions, a program that lets musicians showcase music on their pages and sell performance videos," according to the article. With more members than the population of Mexico and local versions in 22 countries and territories outside the US, MySpace also continues its international expansion, planning to open offices and "launch custom sites in India, Russia, Poland, South Korea, and Turkey, the Zooped blog reports. For example, in India, where Net speeds are comparatively slow, a less bandwidth-greedy version is in the works. In South Korea, where blogging is hugely popular, MySpace will be more of a blogging site than in the US (though blogging is part of the US MySpace experience). Meanwhile, Facebook is growing fast internationally too - see Zooped for some comScore figures it cites.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Controversial 'Cool Girl' game in Oz

Is it a way for "cool girl" wannabes to vent their frustrations, does it teach them to bully, or does it simply entertain? Those are the questions reportedly surrounding a new mobile-phone game in Australia that's drawing international attention. Called "Coolest Girl in School," the game - quite an anomaly because designed specifically for girls - "invites young players to 'lie, bitch, and flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder'," reports Sydney-based SmartHouse magazine. It went on sale last week and the Australian Family Association called for it to be banned. The game was designed by Adelaide-based developers Holly Owen of Champagne for the Ladies and Karyn Lanthois of Kukan Studio, who said they were surprised by the pre-release international attention.

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Australia's very connected families

Ninety percent of Australian families with children are online, up from 7% in 2005, reports Australian IT, citing new findings from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Three-quarters (76%) of those online families have broadband connections. The study also found that "most Australian families with children older than eight now have three televisions, three mobile phones, a gaming console, and Internet access," and 98% own a computer. Oz's 15-to-17-year-olds spend on average an hour and 15 minutes a day online, and 42% have posted content to social-networking sites. As for TV, it has diminished in importance in Australia too, but 20% of Australian children have TV sets in their bedrooms now (up from 8% in 1995), and that compares to 70% of UK kids and 75% of US kids, according to the report. "The vast majority of [Australian] parents say their children's media consumption is fairly easy to control."

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Oz union's Facebook profile

The Australian Workers Union is marketing itself to youth by establishing a presence in Facebook, Australian IT reports. Though union leaders say its profile will get more sophisticated, for now "users can add the ‘Proud AWU Supporter’ application to their profile pages to obtain the organisation's latest news feeds." Version 2.0 will let users "interact directly" with the union, which says it wants to differentiate itself from most unions, which "generally ignore new forms of communication."

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