Generation X at Yale may have been the luckiest yet. We’ve grown up riding bikes, playing board games, frolicking outside, reading a few books here and there, maybe some N64—but without the limitless access to the Web or computers that kids have today, which can reduce time spent with people live.
But as those now in their late teens/early twenties entered their double digits at the turn of the century, they started devoting more time to chatting on AIM, writing on Xangas, or stalking—I mean finding new music—on MySpace. This article traces my journey through the social networking sites and our increase in social capital, the resources one accumulates through forming relationships of the decade.
In middle school, if one really wanted to know what their friends were thinking, they would read their Xangas, or customizable blogs.
It wasn’t for the eProps—currency readers awarded other xangans for good posts—the comments, or the ability to do your own html. It was the writing.
My good friend still writes: “coming home from college is a weird time. i don’t know if i’m taking a break from college, or if college is the break from here. it works both ways i guess.”
Really. How insightful could a 13-year-old or 16-year-old be?
Maybe Xanga is the anti- Facebook—you aren’t attempting to grow your circle of friends or reduce interaction to mere pokes and likes, but rather deepening the bonds through constant readership. This is a community of bloggers that combines elements of Facebook (stalking), MySpace (personalization) and more sophisticated blogging sites such as WordPress.
Xanga’s frills are hurting it since users increasingly prefer the clean-cut style and simplicity Facebook flaunts. My friend rants: “i don’t like all the things i can do with this entry. change its font size, bullets, bold…i just want to write, for me, for you.”
When Facebook was still the Facebook and only for college students, there was Sconex, the high school version of Facebook. Urbandictionary describes: “a site where high school students can get to meet new friends…also a place to post ‘Happy Birthday.’” On Sconex, a portmanteau of “school nexus,” students could secretly “crush” on someone, and if the crushes matched, you would be notified. You could list your schedule so friends could find you. You could upload photos, write about what you liked and more. But Sconex never really grew—you saw these high school friends on a daily basis, making social networking online superfluous. When Facebook opened its site to high school students in September 2005, Sconex for my NYC public high school died.
Originally a medium for sharing music, MySpace now allows its users to personalize everything—a symptom of the “my” before the “space”—leading to chaos. Facebook superseded MySpace in unique monthly visitors a few years ago.
With Facebook as an alternative, users do not want to check out “$!!!!KARIN%%%##@”’s profile lest their browsers crash. MySpace also popularized the ‘MySpace’ photo, depicting self-shot portraits at those awkward angles. (You know you have one.)
But MySpace has recently added Facebook-like features such as a homepage with news feeds, friend suggestions and birthday alerts to keep up.
Created in 2004 for college students, Facebook has grown to over 350 million users—larger than the population of the United States! And ever since non-students could join in 2006, business has been booming. Because it has grown with sophisticated privacy settings and greater awareness of who’s seeing what, Facebook is a smart way to social network. Users can keep in touch with ‘friends’ in a variety of ways (from the noncommittal like to a public wall post to a private message), far after you have moved on. From high school. From college. From that first job. From that internship. You will always call up your closest friends when you return home to hang out, but what to do about Pearl or John?
Facebook, unlike the others, arose out of exclusivity. You could only join an institutional network if you had an institutional e-mail address. Initially, users were connecting to people they already knew. Only when Facebook expanded membership did it truly become a social networking site; people now move from online to offline, as Nicole Ellison, et. al. point out in “The Benefits of Facebook ‘Friends.’” But Facebook can fail to reflect offline relationships, especially if users don’t think to ‘friend’ people who are already our acquaintances in real life. Facebook has increased our social capital, a phenomenon that can enhance workplace ambience, improve public health, lower crime rates, and make financial markets more efficient. Texas University researchers recently found that one’s Facebook personality is more often genuine than not.
But at college, Facebook serves another purpose: posterboard. Students promote events they are hosting or attending and can stay in the loop with on-campus activities. How often have you checked YaleStation recently?
Get off the floor, Paris Hilton.
Started in 2006, tweeting is the latest and least understood fad for not only Hollywood and A-list partiers, but also for businesses and the plebs. Twitter gives users 140 characters to post their tweets. Readers can then comment by re-tweeting. It’s helped someone get out of jail while vacationing. This is micro-blogging at its finest.
An October 9, 2009 Businessweek article shows Twitter is helping businesses reach and resolve problems for consumers and establish credibility. It’s fast, it’s short, it’s easy, it’s cheap—the latter especially important as the United States just emerges from its recession. You can even shorten links in tweets with http://bit.ly. This is no mere Facebook status.
So why are some so afraid to tweet? Social networking sites grow without manuals. There isn’t enough critical mass for established Twitter protocol. But we do know people don’t really care if you just bought some shoes. But if Anna Wintour tweets, you really do care. It makes more sense to get twitter accounts for events or clubs or news services with multiple updates throughout the day.
It’s also helpful to actually think of Twitter as a micro-blog—what do you as a blogger want to consistently tweet about? What will ensure that your followers stay?
Twitter harps about it’s simplicity. Tweets can be sent via mobile texting, IM, or online. You only see the tweets of people you follow. Tweet tweet.
Many college students are starting LinkedIn accounts to connect with those in the workforce as well as potential employers. LinkedIn showcases your work experience, extracurricular activities, education—in sum, a cyber resume. Users can even connect Twitters to LinkedIn so tweets appear on your LinkedIn page.