Recently I’ve followed several interesting online discussions about social networking. Here are a few highlights:
- Social media researcher danah boyd’s work involves interviewing teens across the country about social networking; she’s collected some fascinating data. In her recent talk at the Personal Democracy Forum Conference in New York she discussed class issues across various social networking sites. Boyd has found differences in the use of Facebook and MySpace in high schoolers of different socioeconomic statuses. Facebook is seen by many teens as more mature and higher status, a place where the “honors kids” hang out, while MySpace is often viewed as somewhat childish and lower status.
- Ezter Hargittai of Northwestern University does similar research from a quantitative (rather than a qualitative) perspective. Last week she discussed the results of her survey of social networking preferences of first year college students in 2007 and 2009 on Crooked Timber. While her data shows that Facebook use is up and MySpace use down across the board, it also suggests that the class distribution found by boyd in high schoolers persists among college students. Facebook use is highest among first year students of higher socioeconomic status, and MySpace is most heavily used by students of lower socioeconomic status. Hargittai’s data reveal racial differences in social networking choices among freshmen, too.
- Finally, a post last week on ReadWriteWeb discussed the analysis of Facebook user data by interactive agency iStrategy. These data show that while the total number of Facebook users continues to grow, the past six months has seen explosive growth in the number of users who are 55 and older: over 500%! On the flip side, the number of high school and college users has shrunk in the first half of 2009. Are new users simply declining to list their educational status, or has Facebook lost some appeal for students now that all of us “old folks” are there?
What does this all mean for academic libraries? Facebook has witnessed explosive growth in recent years, and many of us have created a presence on the site to promote our libraries and connect with students. But boyd’s and Hargittai’s research reminds us that we may be missing the opportunity to connect with an often sizable segment of our student population if we restrict our social networking efforts just to Facebook.
On the other hand, if college students are fleeing Facebook (a creepy treehouse effect?), perhaps it’s not the best place for us to be focusing our energies. And if students are leaving Facebook, and MySpace use is down, too, where are they going?