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Research Report by Helen Skura

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 2 months ago

 

Research Report: Modeling and Mapping Social Networks With Facebook.com

 

By Helen Skura, Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy Team

 

 

Abstract:

 

Facebook.com is a popular social networking website that allows users to create and manage a personal profile as well as to make and track relationships with other users. The English 149 project team, "Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy" will use the site and its applications in order to model and map the social networks of the characters from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juilet.

 

Description:

 

Social networking websites are "web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system" (Boyd). Facebook.com, which labels itself a "social utility," is one such example of this type of web-based program. The site is available free to any user with a valid email address.

Facebook offers users a wide array of "technologies that facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph, the digital mapping of people's real-world social connections" (Zuckerberg). The site's core features are "Profile," "Friends," and "Networks." Users are grouped by self-declared geographical and/or educational areas (their "Networks") and cannot see the profiles of users outside their own networks. Individual privacy settings can be altered to further restrict who is able to view a user's profile.

 

Users are allowed to create personalized "Profile" pages. These pages can be customized and commonly include information such as user's name, age, birthday, interests, activities, favorite movies, favorite books, favorite quotes, political views, religious views, education history, and work history. Each item in the list is an active link and, when clicked, will cross reference the site for users who have listed the same item. The "Status" option allows users to post current moods or activities, such as "Jane is bored" or "Jane is writing a paper." Other basic features are "Photos," which allows users to upload pictures and create albums to share, "Groups," which allows users to create and/or join online interest clubs, and "Events," which allows users to schedule, join, and/or invite others to real-world social gatherings. The "Wall" and "Inbox" allow for either public or private user-to-user messaging within the site. The "Mini-Feed," located on the "Profile" page, keeps track of the ten most recent actions taken by the user on the site and archives past actions, unless set otherwise by the user. The "News Feed," located on the "Home" page, similarly keeps track of recent actions taken by friends of the user. Actions, messages, and posts are all time stamped and displayed in descending chronological order.

 

The site is designed and is driven by social interaction. Users can choose to "friend" each other and will appear in each other's "Friends" sections. Users can track their friends' actions on the site, as well as freely view their friends' profiles, pictures, and other posted content. Users can choose to define the relationships they have with each friend from a list of standards, such as "went to school together," "took a course together," or "met randomly." Aside from the core "Wall" and "Inbox" features, user-to-user messaging and interaction on the site exist in a variety of forms. Users can comment on friends' photos and invite their friends to join groups or events. Optional applications offer even more playful choices, such as gifting friends with everything from virtual teddy bears to virtual alcoholic beverages to virtual plants that actually grow over the course of several days. With the "SuperPoke!" application, users can make virtual actions towards their friends, such as hugging or slapping.

 

Facebook reports that it has over 65 million active users (with "active user" defined as being one that has logged on in the past thirty days), as well as over 55,000 regional, work-related, college, and high school networks. More than half of active users spend an average of twenty minutes a day on the site. Facebook claims to be the sixth most-trafficked site in the U.S. and "the second most-trafficked PHP [Hypertext Preprocessor] in the world, and one of the largest MySQL [multithreaded, multi-user Structured English Query Language] installations anywhere" (Zuckerberg). Its "lightweight but powerful multi-language RPC [Remote Procedure Call] framework" makes Facebook able to "seamlessly and easily tie together subsystems written in any language, running on any platform" (Zuckerberg). Facebook is also the world's largest user of "memcached, an open-source caching system, and has created a custom-built search engine serving millions of queries a day, completely distributed and entirely in-memory, with real-time updates" (Zuckerberg).

 

Commentary:

 

Since Facebook is designed and functions around social interaction, it is optimal for tracking and exploring the scope of social networks. For the English 149 "Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy" project, using the site as a tool for modeling and mapping the social network of the play's characters presents several main opportunities and challenges.

 

Because Facebook archives all user-to-user exchanges on the "Wall," as well as photo comment posts and discussion threads in group pages, the medium allows for a unique exploration of nonlinear storytelling. Project members plan to recreate different scenes and acts using many of the available features. Because of this, all parts of the story will not all be located in one place or in a traditional timeline. Parts will be scattered and linked throughout various characters' profile pages. A reader attempting to follow the story through this form will be forced to attempt to track and order various interacts in the same way they might be expected to navigate a work of hypertext fiction. Project members feel that this aspect will add complexity and flexibility to the story, hopefully to the aim of making it more accessible and engaging as it forces the reader to interact with the text.

 

Another advantage that Facebook presents is its wealth of add-on applications. One such application, the "Friend Wheel" by Thomas Fletcher, will be used by project members to create a map of the social networks of the characters. Screen shots of the wheel allow for records of the social network map. The wheel can be regenerated an unlimited number of times, and screen shots allow for comparisons to be drawn between the makeup and scope of social networks over time. However, the disadvantage of this feature is that it does not show frequency of interaction between the friends, making it a representation of relationships but not how strong they are. 

 

The characters in the play do not have fully developed personalities. They exist only so far as their actions in the text present them. Interests, hobbies, favorites, etc. are not mentioned in any useable detail. Therefore, creating profile pages for the characters is somewhat of a challenge. The project's group members feel that having absent or very limited profiles ignores some of the spirit of the Facebook site, as well as the cross referencing capabilities. However, extrapolating said interests, hobbies, favorites, etc. reaches beyond the text of the play and moves the project into the realm of an adaptation rather than a map or model. Project members continue to be aware of this fact and hope to achieve a satisfactory balance between the two extremes.

 

Resources for Further Study:

 

Boyd, Danah M. and Nicole B. Ellison. "Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13.1 (2007) http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html.

Fletcher, Thomas. "Friend Wheel." Facebook.com. http://www.facebook.com/applications/Friend_Wheel/2415325843.

 

Lenhart, Amanda and Mary Madden. "How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace." Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2007) http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Privacy_SNS_Report_Final.pdf.

"SuperPoke!" Facebook.com. 2008. 19 Feb. 2008 http://ucsb.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2357179312.

Zuckerberg, Mark. Facebook.com. 2004. 19 Feb. 2008 www.facebook.com.

 

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