Are Social Networks About To Ebb Just As We Get There

During yesterday’s Blended Librarians Online Learning Community webcast, which featured Brian Mathews speaking on “Conversations with Patrons: Extending Your Library’s Presence Online”, social networking was a topic of conversation – both by Brian and in the chat room. Brian is a pioneer in connecting with students in online social spaces, so we were glad to have his expertise to share in the webcast. But in discussing social networks the talk turned to two articles published in the last few days, both of which suggest that many MySpace and Facebook subscribers are deserting these systems – and perhaps the thrill is gone. Last week (10/26 – no longer free online) the Wall Street Journal reported, in an article titled “MySpace, ByeSpace”, that both major networks saw their first significant member losses in August 2006. The article questioned if perhaps members were deserting a system they saw as too big, too commercialized, and in danger of being overrun by authority figures (anyone you know?). And then on 10/29 the Washington Post carried the article “In Teen’s Web World, MySpace is So Last Year“, in which teens were quoted saying they were over their interest in MySpace and planned to leave the service. Seems like many librarians are new arrivals in these spaces or planned to be there soon. Looks like we may have gotten there a little bit too late after all.

Brian was asked what he thought about these articles, and he made some good points about how the networks themselves might outgrow their popularity over time but that the basic concept was a good one that was likely to be around for some time. In other words, we may see new social networks, more likely intended to meet the needs of small niche market segments. That also means we’ll need to keep alert to new resources our students are using for their networking – if we want to be where they are. And if Facebook’s recent decision to remove all library (institutional) profiles is an indicator, then we’ll need to be especially savvy about how we integrate ourselves into these spaces – if we believe being there can help us to connect with our user community. Given how recent user protests forced Facebook to reverse a policy decsion, perhaps this profession needs its own letter writing campaign to try to convince Facebook that libraries should be allowed to have institutional profiles.

BTW – if you missed yesterday’s BL webcast you can view the archive – but you do need to have an account at the Learning Times Network. If you need one, just follow the instructions – it’s free.

5 thoughts on “Are Social Networks About To Ebb Just As We Get There”

  1. MySpace and Facebook have simply grown too big to be a comfortable “community.” The idea that libraries can use social networking technologies to improve library services is right on target.

  2. I still need to check out the webcast. However, I agree with Brian that isocial networking, and social software, is here to stay even if the mega-networks are slowing. Facebook researcher Fred Stutzman wrote an intelligent analysis of why people might be leaving the larger services. Essentially he argues that, throughout their lives, people naturally move in and out of various social networks based on what he has deemed situational relevance. Fred continues to explain:

    “In the “real world”, our social networks are not publicly articulated. When we decide to stop attending our book groups, we do not suddenly disappear from all of our other social groups. When we delete our Myspace profiles, we do remove ourselves from all of the in-system groups with which we affiliate. Because SNS suicide represents a shunning of all groups, we commonly overattribute value to this action.”

    I would also argue that Libraries move beyond letter writing and form explicit partnerships with social networks. We collaborate with vendors to help them improve their products. So why not work directly with an SNS provider? While some services might ask for advertising fees or the like, others would recognize the added value we would provide to their users. For example, a network like Facebook would gain a one-up on their competition by partnering with a library or university. If a university (Duke for example) can partner with Apple’s iTunes, why not partner with Facebook? Has anyone tried to set up a formal partnership like this with an SNS network? These are my immediate thoughts.

  3. Media is all about perception. They love to hype things up, only to knock them back down. What connection does Noguchi have with all these high school kids in in Falls Church? She’s got all these negative quotes— do you think there is any bias? Take a look at her MySpace profile—she’s a tourist, not a member of the community.

    These sites are only a few years old— yet they have been hyped tremendously—it’s going to settle down. The growth rate can’t continue, but what if MySpace only had 50 million users instead of 120 million, would that change things? Would it still be worth talking about? Would the media still give them all this attention? Will they turn on Second Life next month or wait until January?

    Once things settle down it will become ubiquitous. People will have social networking accounts, but maybe use them with such obsession. It will just become normal or natural. How many times did we hear about this amazing ‘information superhighway’ before it became just the web? How long did it take for companies to stop making a big deal out of the fact that they had a site on the World Wide Web? Does anyone still use dial-up via AOL? These things will evolve, and sure MySpace might die off like Friendster, or AOL, or the latest rock band—but there will be something else. There is always something next.

    Perhaps students will spend less time on a particular site, but what are they doing instead? Are they visiting other sites? Are they watching TV? Telephone? Texting? Dating? Homework? I noticed a spike in usage in September when school was starting—does that mean that as we get deeper into the semester, college students devote less time toward socializing online? Or do they streamline it into their life cycle? That was the purpose of facebook’s big upgrade—to help users stay current about their friends’ activities more effectively – yet it backfired, causing users to spend even more time on the site.

    I’ve stated before—I think the technology will evolve, but the behavior is something that works. People like to get all their information in one place. They like to share and see what other people are doing. Perhaps the next big concept should be integrating all your social sites into one dashboard.

    I think that’s the direction we should design too. Our students might actually use our site and resources if we could provide easy access tools that integrated into their sites. I would love to have value-added content on my MySpace profile allowing me to manage my Netflix queue, the ability to search renew and request books, follow blogs, news, topics and whatever else. And even better, if it gave me the option to show others the movies I’m watching this week (Man Bites Dog & The Merchants of Cool) as well as the books I’m reading, etc—of course with excellent privacy controls. I want to be able to search, share, and discover. As I mentioned in the Blended Librarian talk, the future is about Delievery, not Dine-in. Libraries and other services need to think toward repackaging content into customizable interactive snap-in place modules.

    The best we can do is try. If we can interact weekly with 200 students via social networking, I consider that a success. If we can turn non-patrons into patrons, that’s a success. If a student tells a friend something they saw on our profile, that’s a success. We have to compete for their attention– so why not use all the tools we can?

    Right now I am finding that students are not that surprised to see their library on MySpace— but how long will it be before they expect it?

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