Week 11 Blog: A Second Life

Second Life?

This week’s article by Boellstorff (2008) discusses Second Life and the concepts of visuality and land, lag, afk (away-from-keyboard), immersion and presence found in online virtual worlds.  What I found interesting about this article was the distinction Boellstorff emphasises between ‘being online (or “in-world”) versus offline’ (pg 108).

For most online game players, virtual worlds allow an escape from reality to a place where they have an element of control over their surroundings.  When we log onto Second Life, our attention focuses to this alternative world whilst the problems that exist in our actual lives are put out of mind for the time being.

I think that a characteristic of many virtual online world players is the desire to keep the online ‘virtual’ life and the offline world separate. In this article, Boellstorff (2008) talks about the controversy over whether voice should be added as a feature of Second Life.  Some residents believed that the ability to use voice would damage this ‘border’ between their real lives and their virtual life and would therefore “destroy the fantasy” (Boellstorff 2008, pg 114) – in other words, the immersion of the player into the virtual world would be impacted. I understand this concern as I am a player of an online world and I am against anything that that threatens to bridge the gap between my offline and online persona. When the virtual world that I play introduced a Facebook application that identified your Facebook friends who also played the game and vice versa, I refused to install the application.

I guess this is why they call it Second Life – players desire their online life to be separate to their actual lives.

– Katie Challita 3663620

References:

Boellstorff, Tom (2008), Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human, Princeton: Princeton University Press, [pp.93-117]

Image sourced from http://www.eslweb.org/virtualworlds.htm

Week 5 Blog: Networks of Social Interaction

social media timeline

This week’s reading by boyd and Ellison (2008) focuses on the definition and history of Social Network Sites (SNSs) and their progression as the Web has advanced.  I agree with the distinction made between the terms social network site and social networking site; although these terms are often used interchangeably, boyd and Ellison (2008) decided to use the term network rather than networking. Networking ‘emphasizes relationship initiation, often between strangers’ (boyd & Ellison 2008, pg 211) but this is not the primary function of many SNSs. Most users of SNSs are not ‘networking’ as in attempting to meet new people, but are connecting with people already in their social network (boyd & Ellison 2008).

A history of SNSs is explored in the article (2008), demonstrating their transformation as the popularity of such sites has increased and the capabilities of the Web expanded.  Early SNSs such as SixDegrees.com, Friendster and Ryze were eventually replaced with sites such as MySpace and Facebook that are highly user-responsive and able to be easily manipulated by users to suit their own personal tastes and preferences.

I believe that SNSs are popular because they provide a simple way for people to remain in contact regardless of their geographic location.  However, there is also an element of self-presentation; friendship links ‘serve as identity markers for the profile owner’ (boyd & Ellison 2008, pg 220) and affect how we are seen by others.  SNSs raise many privacy issues as they are ‘challenging legal conceptions of privacy’ (boyd & Ellison 2008, pg 222) and have been the source of moral panic in the past. Most SNSs have responded to these concerns through amendments to privacy policies and by raising awareness of these matters.

– Katie Challita 3663620

References:

boyd, dana & Ellison, Nicole (2008), ‘Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship,’, Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, vol.13, pp.210-230

Image sourced from http://janeknight.typepad.com/socialmedia/2009/10/a-history-of-social-media.html

Week 4 Blog: Facebook – The Commodification of Socialisation?

FaceBook

This week’s article by Cohen (2008) focuses on Facebook and the issues of privacy, the commodification of information, and the potential for social networking sites (SNS) to be used to create alternative messages. These areas were analysed through a gender-based lens, concentrating on young women and their perceptions of these issues.

The focus groups in the study found that SNS ‘present few opportunities for disseminating alternative messages or images about female sexuality’ (Cohen 2008, pg 211). I agree that the design constraints of Facebook limit the ability to communicate messages; however, I think that Facebook is a valid tool for raising awareness of social issues and could be used in conjunction with a more direct and proactive approach. High exposure and the possibility of online peer-to-peer communication and sharing indicate a possibility for wide-spread distribution of positive messages.

Participants of the study failed to see the potential of Facebook for communicating alternative messages due to its commercial aims – user-provided information is sold to third parties who can then specifically pursue their target market (Cohen 2008, pg 211-212).  When I turned eighteen I noticed an immediate change in the advertisements on my Facebook page.  My age (eighteen), gender (female) and relationship status (single), resulted in advertisements for dating websites featuring images of young men – these advertisements would not have appeared if I was under 18, male or in a relationship.

The focus groups determined that whilst they were ‘enthusiastic about the social possibilities of Facebook’ (Cohen 2008, pg 212), the commercialistic nature of Facebook and its functional constraints limited the potential for SNS to be used to project alternative messages especially about female sexuality.

– Katie Challita 3663620

References:

Cohen, N 2008, ‘Gendering Facebook: Privacy and Commodification’, Journal of Feminist Media Studies, vol.8 issue.2, pp. 201-214

Image from Facebook.com‘s Official Facebook group

Week 3 Blog: Social Research with New Media Technologies

Survey

This article by Murthy (2008) focuses on ethnography and the reluctance of academics to utilise the internet and technological methods of research to gather information and data for analysis.  I agree with Murthy’s conclusion that a combination of digital research methods and traditional, physical ethnography is necessary to achieve a balanced, comprehensive study.

Murthy’s article links with the Warschauer and Grimes (2007) article as it explores how the affordances of Web 2.0, specifically online questionnaires, digital video, social networking sites and blogs, provide amazing potential for ethnographers.  Murthy indicates that offline questionnaires were an ‘extremely costly and labour intensive affair’ (2008, pg 842); however, Web 2.0 allows researchers to easily construct polls and analyse associated data, and users to complete these polls without difficulty. Social networking websites give researchers greater access to suitable respondents and the ability to ‘invisibly observe the social interactions of page members’ (Murthy 2008, pg 845).  Blogs provide a platform for researchers and respondents to engage in communication, and digital video allows researchers to gather video data and to upload and embed videos into their blogs.

The potential that these technologies provide social researchers is great; however, I agree with Murthy that they should be used with caution.  Ethical issues such as lurking (2008, pg 840) and the use of the words of Internet users without their permission (2008, pg 845) must be addressed. In addition, the Internet does not represent an accurate stratification of society – a divide exists due to differences in internet accessibility, disabilities, language barriers and age (2008, pg 848).  This further strengthens the notion that digital and physical ethnography used simultaneously would result in more meaningful social research.

– Katie Challita 3663620

References:

Murthy, Dhiraj 2008, ‘Digital Ethnography: An Examination of the Use of New Technologies for Social Research’, Sociology, vol 42, no 5, pp.837-855.

Warschauer, Mark and Grimes, Douglas (2007) ‘Audience, Authorship and Artefact: The Emergent Semiotics of Web 2.0,’ Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, vol 27, pp. 1-23)

Imaged sourced from http://www.axiom-mr.com/online-surveys/

Week 2 Blog: A Generational Change – Communicating with Web 2.0

Social Networking

Web 2.0 has introduced new concepts of audience, authorship and artefact, characterised by heightened levels of participation, collaboration and accessibility to publishing functions. This week’s article by Warschauer and Grimes (2007) analyses this transformation, focusing on blogs, wikis and social networking sites in order to demonstrate how our understanding of the Web has been altered.

I found the focus on social networking sites interesting, including how the Web has transformed from an individual publishing focus with limited sharing and collaboration, to a massive web of communication, information, resources and, most importantly, people. This suggests that the new generation of the Web is ‘no longer about the technologies per se but about the communities that have grown up around them’ (Jenkins 2007).

The major changes include the ease of usage and participation and the ‘semiotics of ranking and tagging mechanisms’ (Warschauer et al 2007, pg 14). Web 2.0 enables users to easily engage in social interaction with each other. Sites such as YouTube, FanFiction.net and Flickr allow users to easily upload and share content. Harnessing the functions of ranking of tagging, these sites can statistically analyse ranked data, affecting the content which is displayed on the site. This is, in part, what the article means when it refers to ‘emergent semiotics’ – the meaning of the website is influenced by filtering and the input of the community.

Such a networked Web has positive implications for education. If harnessed correctly, we can create a knowledge community because ‘What we cannot know or do on our own, we may now be able to do collectively.’ (Jenkins 2006, pg 27)

– Katie Challita 3663620

References:

Warschauer, Mark and Grimes, Douglas (2007) ‘Audience, Authorship and Artefact: The Emergent Semiotics of Web 2.0,’ Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, vol 27, pp. 1-23)

Jenkins, Henry  (2007) ‘From YouTube to YouNiversity.’ The Chronicle of Higher Education 53.24 (2007). Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Aug. 2010.

Jenkins, Henry (2006) ‘Convergence culture: where old and new media collide’, NYU Press, accessed 5/8/2010 via Google Books

Image sourced from http://www.smallbusinessbranding.com/1178/how-to-mine-social-conversations/