Research Matters

Research Matters

Social Networking Sites


Research Nancy Baym investigates the evolving nature of friendship on sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Aired February 22, 2009


2 minutes 3.7 MB) | Download mp3

Transcript

A researcher looks at the meaning of friendship on booming Internet social networking sites. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. For many, such web sites have redefined interpersonal communication in the past decade. Nancy Baym, associate professor of communication studies at KU, has researched how people connect online though social networking sites.

Baym: They start in the mid late nineteen nineties based on this idea that Stanley Milgram had about everybody's connected by six degrees of separation - and the first one was actually called sixdegrees.com. And they're based on the premise that you're more likely to want to get to know people who know people you already know than all-out strangers. So rather than a dating site that just has people putting up profiles and trying to randomly match, what if you could put up profiles of people that had shared friends. Wouldn't those be more likely?

As an avid user of such networks myself, I asked Baym why it was that I checked Facebook twenty times a day.

I think different people have different reasons for compulsive Facebook use. But I think it comes down to the fact that there's a continuous dribble - there's always something new - so every time you go something has changed; somebody has updated their status; someone has sent you a request; someone has posted an item. So it's a continuous link of hanging out in the halls with your friends between classes or hanging around the water cooler at the office.

Baym has focused recent research on Last.fm a niche site that connects fans of similar music. She found that online friendship based on common taste in music tended to be weak, although people also used the site to maintain close relationships.

Baym: What I found on Last FM was that on average these relationships are not very strong. Other people have described them as on average being weak ties, which means that you don't discuss a wide range of topics. You don't do a variety of activities together. You tend to be kind of specialized in what topics you talk about. You interact when you run into each other but you don't seek each other out and your communication is confined to fewer media.

For more on social networking sites log onto Research Matters dot KU dot edu. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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Social Networking Sites

Nancy Baym, associate professor of communication studies at KU, has researched how people connect online though social networking sites.

Nancy's Website