Monday, December 1, 2008

Facebook and Web 2.0

Web 2.0 technology has drastically impacted people’s experiences on the World Wide Web. This new and innovative technology has allowed for the development of people to be able to interact and communicate with any user which has access to the Web. According to O’Reilly (2005), Web 2.0 is “a set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from the core.” Social networking sites have allowed for inter-connectivity in which people come together to form an online community to discuss current affairs, share opinions, and reach out to form friendships or relationships. One of the most popular and oft used social networking sites available is Facebook. Facebook has incorporated several of the features that Web 2.0 technology has exemplified regarding user to user activity. As with any large business that incorporates interactions between users, Facebook has encountered negative aspects and potential problems that could affect future communication. I have found that Facebook has become a powerful tool of communication in which the benefits outweigh the potential harms.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, a student at the University of Harvard, wanted to create an online year book that showed the accounts of students at the college. According to Michael Hirschen (2007), Facebook was created to “allow students not only to gawk at one another's photos but also to flirt, network, interact.” As popularity began to soar throughout his college, Zuckerberg opened the possibility to all other colleges around the United States.

A brief overview of Facebook’s functions must start with the ability for any user to create a profile just by having a valid email address. A profile is similar to a “biography” of a person’s life; it consists of stating ones name, hometown, birth date, and a lot of other personal information that if one chooses can fill out. Along with personal identity, Facebook gives the option to tell about personal interests, relationship preferences, and any other favorite activities that people wish to display. After a profile is created, users reach out to establish friendships with either people whom they have an offline relationship with or somebody they are looking to establish a new online relationship with. This is done through what Facebook has established as “friend requests.” Facebook also allows the opportunity for people to come together to form a particular community through the process of group formations. This application brings together users, who in most cases are complete strangers, to discuss their similar interests and express opinions in an asynchronous format. Lastly, Facebook has recently integrated a synchronous chat style through the form of messaging. This faster and more rapid style of communication has many of the same features as American On-line’s Instant Messenger. Users can view on a buddy list that is logged onto Facebook and available to chat with.

Until recently, most members of the Facebook community were under the age of 30. During the start up of Facebook, access was granted to those students who could use a valid email address to verify that they were a college student. As with most successful businesses and organizations, Facebook chose to expand its limits in which members could create a profile and access the network. Anybody with a valid email address could create an account and become a party of the social network. College students are still the primary users of Facebook, but high school students and older adults have been rapidly increasing in popularity.

One of the most basic but oft used features on Facebook is the “Wall” application. This application allows for users to publicly display comments on each other’s profile pages in an asynchronous form. Most of these comments are brief questions regarding how a person is or a witty comment about what they are doing. The “Superwall,” according to Stone (2007), “lets Facebook members leave messages, photos or videos on one another’s profile pages". The main upgrade to this application is it allows users to leave interactive media in a public form. If a person does not want their comment to be public; there is also a form of “email” on Facebook. This interaction allows for people to write longer, more personable messages that can lead in depth conversations. Both applications have enhanced the way users can communicate and have created a form of privacy.

Another social interaction that has occurred of Facebook is the allowance of a “News Feed”. This new feature acts like a daily log of all of the activity that friends in your network have been doing or updating. For example, the log presents to you new photos or comments that are posted within other friends profiles. One can also chose to have a twenty four hour live update into the events and actions that is taking place they are partaking in. The Mini-Feed feature made it a lot easier for people to keep up to date with event and happenings in others live rather than browsing through each particular profile to see if any updates were made. A lot of complaints were put forth when this tool was introduced, and several people called it the “Facebook Stalker Tool.” People did not have the need to know every update that occurred amongst their friends, nor did they need all of their friends to follow every move they did on Facebook. After complaints, this tool became an optional feature in which one could limit the amount of information that is displayed both about them and what they see about others.

Another Web 2.0 technology that Facebook has incorporated into its network is the ability to blog. Blogging acts much like a personal journal, but is available for friends and family to view publicly. This blog is kept under the section of My Notes and can be written in, edited, or deleted at any time. Often times this is a place where people use to either vent about a topic or gain feedback from others pertaining to a subject matter. Also, this is a fast and efficient way to reach out to a large audience to keep everybody posted on you daily occurrences. For example, it is quicker to post a note about an upcoming event or about a public reminder in the blog rather than individually call every user. Also, this section can be set to have only certain individuals the ability and opportunity to read about your blog.

Another feature that has made Facebook so successful is the easiness to reach out and connect with people through linking. When two people become friends on Facebook, the friend list of each other is exposed and some people find this a better way to view people who they may have interest in. Facebook also has a “People Who You May Know” application which accumulates the people that have a certain number of mutual friends. This application is also optional but allows for a two way channel of communication.

Privacy regarding any online activity that one may do is often a cause for great concern. Whether a person is checking their email, paying online bills, or displaying information, privacy has become has major topic. According to Vara (2008), "Facebook has gone to the extent of allowing each individual to treat each of their friends on their own basis"(p 7). That is, the amount of content that can be viewed by people’s friends can be limited to the desired amount. This is particularly important when managing the content that is shared between family, friends, and coworkers. The ability for family to read personal issues rather than coworkers has made for an important advancement concerning privacy.

There are some potential drawbacks to using Facebook. The issue of identity management has become a growing problem in social networks. Identity management is the act of portraying a certain self image to look desirable in the eyes of an audience. A profile account can contain different information across numerous aspects of one’s life such as personal activities, favorite books or movies, and relationship preferences. In an online form, it is very easy to display to others a particular self image in which one might not actually be. For example, people may be reluctant to present that they have a particular sex preference that goes against society’s norms or that their political views may portray a negative image of themselves if it goes against the rest of their friends. There is no technological or social constraint that limits the information people want to display about themselves. This can lead to other problems such as stereotyping certain individuals. In cases when the first interaction one may have with another is through a social network, prejudging is often a problem. Upon arriving at a new college as a freshman, many students “friend” each other on Facebook to find out who people are and what their interests are. If roommates are chosen because interests were aligned, although they were deceptive, it could cause for major problems and concerns.

Another potential problem that has occurred and will continue to occur is in the form of online safety. According to Stone (2008), “Facebook has reached an agreement with 49 state attorneys general to institute a broad set of principles intended to protect young users from online predators and inappropriate material.” This is a positive first step in order to keep younger children from being violated online unknowingly. When Facebook was first started, it allowed only for college students to form accounts and use the network. Young adults were less susceptible to any forms of stalking or harassment for the sake of understanding violation principles. With students as young as five years old now using this site, Facebook needs to monitor the events and make aware the potential hazards that can occur through their site.

Facebook has established a reputation as being a community in which users connect to communicate across a broad spectrum. Besides just individual interactions, Facebook can be a useful tool in getting information out about important issues such as politics or a crisis. According to Palmer (2008), social networks can be used as a“...tool developed for online socializing have been co-opted to help out in times of crisis" (p 24). He uses the example of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, and shows how people positively responded to information about the crisis. The possibilities of outreaching to numerous individuals could be beneficial to all users if properly instituted.

Facebook has allowed for people to branch out and expand their horizons to people all over the world. This powerful tool of communication has allowed users to create or maintain friendships that occur both in the online and offline world. Although there are some potential drawbacks and dangers with using an online social networking site, the affordances Facebook allows in redefining how people communicate can be beneficial to people who utilize the system for its focused agenda. This Web 2.0 application has redefined communication development across the world.

O’Reilly, Tim. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved August 21, 2008 from

Hirschen, Michael. (2007). About Facebook. Atlantic Monthly, October Vol. 300, p. 148-155.

Stone, Brad. (2008). Facebook Agrees to Devise Tools to protect Young Users. New York Times, 05/09/2008.

Vara, Vauhini. (2008). Facebook Increases Privacy Options. Wall Street Journal, Vol 251 p. b7.

Stone, Brad. (2007). In Facebook, Investigating a Theory. New York Times: 10/4/2007.

Palmer, Jason. (2008). Emergency: 2.0 is coming to a website near you. New Scientist, Vol. 198, p24-25.

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