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Understanding Sociability in Social Network Sites

The next session panel at ICA 2010, on post-convergence, starts with Zizi Papacharissi, whose focus is on sociability on social network sites. She begins by noting questions over whether social networking makes people more or less social; in reality, however, social media are simply integrated into media habits overall. Also, there is a question over whether these new media are more or less social than others - again, in reality, all media are social. Finally, are these online places more or less social? Perhaps the real answer is that online spaces and achitectures have specific social affordances.

Uses and gratifications research into Facebook (focussing on university students) points to a different kind of sociability on the site: motives for participation converged in new ways: people were socially multitasking as they were using the site; sociability was neither highly active nor highly passive, but users were more like 'social couch potatoes' in their activities; and there was flexible, mobility-friendly, and convergent social behaviour (social multitasking again - a combination of on- and off-site social ties); finally, there was a public privacy of social ties - people recognised privacy risks but were unable to react, and had a reflexive understanding of privacy (i.e., people had no shared fixed sense of privacy, but one depending on the social sphere in which users interacted).

Further, Zizi examined the use of photos on Facebook, and identified the centrality of photography to integrity formation, group cohesiveness and independence from families; images demonstrated an awareness of the camera (often posing directly); contextual elements were deemphasised, while images emphasised group connections and togetherness.

Finally, a study of Facebook, LinkedIn, and A Small World examined the architecture of social networks, showing how each balanced public and private differently; how self-presentation differed in these publicly private or privately public spaces; how taste and class were intricately performed; and how there were tight and loose structures (Facebook was the loosest, but also afforded the most responsibility for how to define group structures).

These findings align with similar studies, pointing to the centrality of expression and connection in social media. Sociability is networked, and privacy and sociality tend to trade off against one another; the sense of self is reflexive and liquid. The challenge for social researchers is how theory is remediated in these specific spaces.

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