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Social Networking

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Research Paper on Social Networking: Research Paper on Social Networking

by Alessandro Cecconi EDD 8012 CRN 200820 Management and Evaluation of Instructional Technology and Distance Education Programs

Nova Southeastern University December 17, 2007

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Definition The term “social networking” does not exclusively belong to digital technology on the Web. On the contrary, social networks had been studied from the beginning of 20th century with the aim to comprehend how the members of a certain community interact and which mechanism can determine the interaction itself. Today social networking commonly refers to all those activities that are carried out within specific online services that provides free space and software tools which allow to create networks of people. In other words, a social networking service is a Web site that allows individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile. The mechanism is the following: social networking services enable users to create a profile for themselves, by inserting their personal data. Users’ data are not only constituted by vital statistics, but they include a lot of other information which pertains to user hobbies, passions, interests, professional background and so on. This kind of personal data, all spontaneously provided by the user her/himself, permit to create interconnected networks of people who decide to put in common their interests and to have an online identity which fully describes them. The great strength of social networking are the multiple ways the users have to interact. Below is a list of the main communication resources used to build social networks: chat; messaging; wiki; email; video; voice; chat;

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file sharing; blogging; discussion groups. Brief History All the technologies listed above are not new to the Web users who had been surfing the Web during the last ten years, but today we label “social networking sites” those which “reinvented” these technologies in commercial and non-commercial ways. Early social networking sites, like Classmates.com (used to find, connect and keep in touch with old school friends), go back to 1995, while recent phenomenon, such as Facebook and MySpace, go back to 2003. In the figure that follows there is a timeline (it starts from 1997) where it is possible to note the increasing number of social networking sites during the last four/five years. It will be useful to remind that not all these Web sites constitutes “real” new service, but in many cases they are only a marketing strategy adopted to re-launch certain brands.

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Figure 1. Timeline of the launch dates of many major SNSs and dates when community sites re-launched with SNS features

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Context It is not possible to describe social networking without considering the current status of the Web, which is commonly defined “2.0”. The biggest innovation in Web 2.0 is the possibility for users to directly and easily create contents, even if they do not possess technical skills. This content production is continuous and the social networking sites that are seeing strong growth are continually refreshed by user generated content. In particular, all the software tools that deal with digital communities are available for free and are very easy to use; as a consequence, every user can add or modify contents, search for existing ones and be part of a large number of communities. Everyone can be an author. Below are some data that summarize the growth of social networking service and their general relevance. In the table are listed ten social networking sites; for each site are indicated in column the millions of unique visitors for April 2005 and April 2006, and the year over year growth percentage. The same data are visually represented in the other chart.
Site MySpace Blogger Classmates Online YouTube MSN Groups AOL Hometown Yahoo! Groups MSN Spaces Six Apart TypePad Xanga.com Apr-05 UA (000) 8,21 10,301 11,672 N/A 12,352 11,236 8,262 1,857 5,065 5,202 Apr-06 UA (000) 38,359 18,508 12,865 12,505 10,57 9,59 9,165 7,165 6,711 6,631 YOY Growth 367% 80% 10% N/A -14% -15% 11% 286% 32% 27%

Figure 2. Nielsen Top 10 Social Networking Sites

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Figure 3. Nielsen/NetRatings Top 10 Social Networking Sites chart From the charts above it is possible to say that social networking is certainly a relevant element in our digital lives, giving to all users the opportunity to keep in contact with a large number of different communities by subscribing to specific services that offers specialized platforms for video, blog, photos, etc. Applications for ITDE Social networking represents a big resource for e-learning, because of its big impact on the World Wide Web. In fact, the social networking online services implemented a new model of knowledge management, totally based upon the worldwide voluntary contribution of users. But to what extent is social networking powerful for distance education? It is very interesting to point out that the average age of social networking users is strongly and quickly decreasing; the new generations seem to be extremely familiar with this kind of approach to the Web. According to a January 2007 survey by the Pew Internet &

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American Life Project, 55 percent of teens (ages 12 to 17) report having created a personal profile online, and an equal number regularly use social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Of those, 91 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently. With all that screen time, students are acutely attuned to - and sometimes more comfortable with - living in the digital world. Thus, it follows that their teaming should become more digital, say proponent of social networking in distance education. For these reasons, social networking is a big resource for ITDE designing and developing and it could become the “trojan horse” to ameliorate the effectiveness of distance education programs. Lot of ITDE professionals started to base their design work upon the fact that users (or learners?) become the main protagonists of their potential lifelong knowledge acquisition experience through social networking experiences they live everyday and very naturally. Thereby, if every user access to digital information not using “traditional” portals but “opening” the Web from her/his personal digital landscape, it is quite obvious that any education program should consider how it will impact on the preexistent knowledge system of the learners. In fact, interrelated knowledge systems not only contribute to expand the Web but also to “describe” and “define” the various contents the Web is made of. Through social tagging, members of a community define links between resources (sites, images, videos, audios, etc.) together with the terms used to describe them (tags). This is a bottom-up process, which starts with a single user adding a link to a site and tagging it, using keywords which are meaningful to the user. Social tagging can play a crucial rule when digital learning objects’ and materials’ repository are created and maintained in an online elearning platform.

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Many of the innovative “social software” is crucial in supporting learning and knowledge processes because they provide the opportunity to develop shared knowledge construction, meta-cognitive reflection and knowledge production. That is why social networking is bringing distance education to a collaborative learning model which could not “erase” the digital behavior of the learner but draw advantage from a sharing attitude of knowledge that is very precious for learning purposes. This process involves many actors of ITDE world: the ITDE manager, who has to be aware of social networking technologies and services; the learner, who has to face learning models which asks her/him always to be pro-active and critic to contents; the designer, who has to understand how original software solutions could melt into digital environments already familiar to users/learners; the teacher, who has to overcome any potential or residual resistance to technology use; the online tutor, who has to be an assiduous users of social networking service and to keep updated in order to help and facilitate learners in their constant interaction. The picture below gives an idea of the social networking activities a user (or more) can perform. The activities are dstributed into three painted areas: create; organize; share.

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Figure 4. User participation for social networking instruments Among the various professional listed in the previous page, the ITDE manager is the one who supervises the entire developing of distance education programs. Thus, she/he should have a very clear representation of all those social networking activities that strongly deal with education methodologies and didactic strategies. In fact, it is quite clear that social networking heavily contributed to mix formal and informal learning; that is because distance education can be even delivered through a personal digital environment (such as Elgg). Distance education, therefore, does not have to “connect” learners each other, but it is absolutely necessary to find out how the preexisting digital networks are structured in order to let the learners interact and transform their educational performances in social performance. If users spend a lot of time joining online communities, building new ones and interacting to communicate thoughts, experiences, etc., there is already a kind of learning process, very informal and very spontaneous.

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Today the mission of ITDE professionals (and managers, in particular) is to design specific strategies which could fit to social networking mechanism with the aim to “refine” the “raw” informal learning which spread knowledge elements across the Web. Obviously, this does not mean that online platforms are completely useless; on the contrary, in online courses, a platform should reflect, in some way, the social networking philosophy. This could be done by offering learner most of the communication tool she/he uses everyday It is a fact that most of online platforms are following this approach, that is to consider the learners interaction a central element and a precious structure to implement several didactic strategies, not only those which are determined by specific psychological paradigms. Thereby, social networking constitutes itself an approach to distance education, being an uninterrupted chain of knowledge sharing through the Internet. If millions of Web users are at least members of a community, then it is reasonable that they all have a complex and personal identity, which could tell us a lot of things on what they really know and on the experiences they have. Social networking could really help to discover new ways to communicate knowledge by moving the focus toward a more and more ubiquitous learning developed by community interactions.

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References Bausch, S., Han, L.(2006). Social networking sites grow 47 percent, year over year, reaching 45 percent of web users, according to nielsen//netratings. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://www.nielsen-netratings.com/pr/pr_060511.pdf Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. (2007) One history of social networking sites. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://yasns.pbwiki.com/ Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. (2007). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html Cho, H., Gay, G., Davidson, B., & Ingraffea, A. (2007). Social Networks, Communication Styles, and Learning Performance in a CSCL Community. Computers & Education. 49(2), 309-329. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from ERIC database.

Hamman, R. (2007, April, 4). Blogging4business: social networking and brands. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://www.cybersoc.com/2007/04/blogging4busine.html

O'Hanlon, C. (2007). If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em. T.H.E. Journal. 34(8), 39-40, 42, 44. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from ERIC database. O'Reilly, T. (2004). What Is Web 2.0. Retrieved on 30 May, 2007 from http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web 20.html Pettenati, M. C., Cigognini, E., Mangione, J., Guerin, E. (2007, July). Using social software for personal knowledge management in formal online learning. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE, 8(3), article 3. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde27/articles/article_3.htm. Williamson, D. A. (2006, July 25). Hooking Up With Social Networks. Retrieved December 16, 2007, from http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?id=1004079

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