Danah Boyd on Social Media is Here to Stay: Now What?

I recently met Danah Boyd at a Microsoft Research event called TechFest (you can watch some of the coverage of cool new gadgets here). She was giving a talk titled “Social Media is here to stay. Now What?” Rather than just regurgitating what she said, I thought I’d tell you about how her thoughts struck me. What neurons (mis)fired as a result. And basically what her ideas knocking around inside my head for a few days have produced.

First off, I love what she does. She’s a Cal alum with a Ph.D from Berkeley’s School of Information, who studies new media and is currently a Microsoft Researcher at their New England campus.  I love the idea of being able to spend your days actually researching social media, group interaction, and the changes happening in how we interact as a result of technology. I’m a mere casual observer in comparison, and perhaps I wouldn’t love trudging through the data, but I love building models for how things work and interact.

She also had a great presentation style. For an academic, she’s very down to earth. I felt like we could go have a cup of coffee no problem. I also felt like she had an elegance and style to her presentation – the use of Flikr photos to liven-up the presentation – calling them “three acts” instead of “bullets,” “buckets,” or some other mundane list metaphor. Finally – I loved the way she closed. Not the usual “Q&A” end-slide, but the simple words that perhaps all of us should live by: “question everything.” It has an elegant double-meaning here – telling her audience that she is humble and encourages – expects – debate, criticism, and opposing ideas.

I loved the way she laid-out the history of social networking. I was amazed at how many of the conclusions she came to parallelled my own two-parter Treatise on the History of the Wall. As a digital native I take it’s evolution for granted – I lived it – but from her perspective she was able to live it but also analyze it while it was happening – and reached some fascinating conclusions.

For example, she painted a picture of the death of Friendster at the hands of it’s own harsh policies – it apparently evicted two highly-connected groups of people – fakesters & bands – who fled – taking their social graphs with them – and found refuge on MySpace. I loved that she compared the cultures of Facebook & MySpace and came to the same conclusions as me.

I also loved that she analyzed the differences between Twitter & Facebook – pointing out something I hadn’t been fully cognizant of – that Twitter has pickup among adults, while Facebook has traction with youth, and that youth will never stay on a network frequented by parents – and that this – not innovation around new features – is the biggest challenge Facebook will face as it continues to grow. Here’s the argument: Essentially, Facebook for people who were born digital represents a way for them to connect in the present. However, for the growing number of parents on facebook, it represents a way to connect with their past, to “show their old highschool friends how cool they’ve become.” Twitter, because of it’s traction among the media and integration into media outlets like CNN.com, has had much more success among adults.

Danah Boyd also points out that after the death of Friendster, the digerati abandoned social networking, and instead spent their time on media-sharing sites – hence the popularity of Flikr among grown-ups – whereas Flikr has almost no users under 25 – because we use Facebook. Similarly, the digerati picked-up Twitter, and, indeed, Twitter is a darling among tech blogs like TechCrunch, which is constantly defending it’s heavy coverage of all things Twitter. Moreover, the content is different. Facebook for youth is about what we’re currently doing. Pictures. Music. Movies. Partying. Nonsense. Because of who is on Twitter – political junkies and tech junkies – that’s not where youth want to spend their time. In fact, Danah Boyd suggests that youth find the whole concept of Twitter “kinda stupid.” All super-fascinating to me, and in-line with my earlier entry “If These Walls Could Talk.”

The challenge Danah outlines at the end of her talk is one around how we – the users – will deal with the changes that result from social media. The nexus of these changes will be how we deal with our information – what we’re doing – being accessible forever, by anyone, searchable, and out-of-context. As friends today often joke: thanks to Facebook, we’ll never be able to run for president. There’s too much dirt out there.

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2 thoughts on “Danah Boyd on Social Media is Here to Stay: Now What?

  1. FYI, it’s now known as “the i-school.”

    I’m jealous. I think I’d love to do what she does. I’d love to meet her, too. And read her thesis.

    Other highlights from techfest?

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