In the first class of TECH621, we attempted to define what a social networking site (SNS) entails. After taking a look at the readings, I feel like no one really has a concrete definition. The definition that Boyd and Ellison (2007) mention is the one I agree with most:
We define Social Network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The
Among the readings, there seem to be similar qualities for definitions of social media, but no universal definition. That can be a serious problem when the social sciences attempt to evaluate the issues of SNS in their fields.
Let’s use political science as an example. There’s been some work, but not an exhaustive amount of work done to look at SNS. Much of the articles I have read from the journals, the articles tend to conclude in a very similar light: SNS has some effect, but it’s hard to tell what effect. Most of them even stop at the idea of the Internet. However, I think a larger part of the problem is that there is a need for a clear definition of social media.
In political science there is a possible need to differentiate social media and Internet use. Because of this there may be somewhat of a reluctance to study SNS in many parts of the political science discipline. The journal articles tend to regard SNS as the same concept as “the Internet”, which is a plausible argument. From their standpoint, much of the Internet uses some semblance of social media. You can recommend Washington Post articles on Facebook, Tweet about a recent C-SPAN video, or even submit blog posts from The Monkey Cage to Reddit.
In political science research, however, definitions can be framed in many different contexts. For example, the definition of democracy differs among the authors of the literature. It sometimes creates hindrances to research, but it also can help illustrate points that are missed by other authors. I think in the case of a definition for social media, there is a need for a rigid definition to start with so that interdisciplinary research can be accomplished and further the study of SNS and other Internet utilities.
Boyd, Danah M. and Nicole B. Ellison. 2007. Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (1), article 11.