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Category Archives: comm506 Understanding Social Network

Amanda in the Rabbit Hole

My name is Yang Zhang, but my friends in Canada call me Amanda. For sure, Amanda is Not Alice, nor is Canada the wonderland. However, since I encountered the Social Media in COMM 503, Gordon’s class, I have fallen into a Rabbit hole as deep and mysterious as well. I came, I saw, and I am amazed. Both my eyes and my mind are well-well occupied. So I keep reflecting on what I see, what I learn, and what I experience, which, to some extent, feels like glaring at a strange “myself” in the mirror. But honestly, the reflecting does not reduce the perplexing as much and quickly as I imagined, but it is rewarding after all.

I was not a user of any prevalent social media in North America until I took COMM 506 this year. Thanks to it, I signed up Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and WordPress as others. I have to admit it is fresh and great experience to study a course and live a life with so much social media around me. And most of these experience acquired from this class is first-hand for a green-hand me. This process to reconstruct my social networks in cyberspace is enormously similar to my daughter’s rich social life in her YMCA daycare – finding friends, contacting them, interacting with them and expending the social networks through these connections. At least I realize the reason so many people are crazy about this: a rebirth in the unknown; an adventure in the wonderland. From a more microscopic (and realistic and academic) perspective, according to the Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2005), this is a process of “association” and “reassembling” among many nods which has been involved in other social networks. At the same time, the newly-formed networks reached out the whole cyberspace both as a cluster of nods and through individual nods.

To put it academically, my social networks in cyberspace is characterized as homophily because most of the connections I have are either professional or personal. So the contacts in the Virtual space are the same contacts in my Real life – my classmates in MACT program, my coworkers, my friends, and so on. This coincides with what Benkler comments: many contacts on the web are the ones in the real life (Benkler, 2006). However, I do not have any clients in my social networks on line because most of my clients are newcomers in Canada, and they either do not have enough language and computer proficiency to involve in social media, or they are more comfortable with social media in their native languages and/or in their native land other than the dominant social media in Canada. These limitations lead to the fact that we do not have enough homophilies to build a social network online.

One of the most remarkable features of the social media is to build up social networks through “homophily”. All media has a social “function” to be a medium, though the names may vary, which enables users to make more friends from their current friends or/and with the help of profile searching engine. Then homophily can expand to be sociality. For example, I knew Brynne in Linked-in through one of my classmate, who is Brynne’s co-worker in UBC. The relationship in this triad (Brynne, my classmate, and me) is transitive. Each of the respective pair of nods in the triad is mutually connected, and here Brynne and I have a two-degree connection, which is commonly accepted as an advantage in social media because the time period is shortened from transitive connection to mutual connection in this triad. By shortening the time and the degrees, social media help users expand their social networks more efficiently and easily, so the respective homophily evolves into the socialization of all.

Efficiency is the key to using social media, otherwise, the latter will be a burden even a hazard. In this point, I find long tail theory can be very practical. The head in long tail can be the key to distinguishing, filtering, and organizing various kinds of information so as to improve the efficiency to finding the best information in the interference of other. At first, I contacted my classmates by clicking each of their pages on our class wiki to see their profiles one by one. Soon, I found it more efficient to build up connections through “Brokers”, who has more connections, many of whom are the persons I was planning to contact. So I quickly connected with all of my classmates through three “brokers” in our class. These “brokers” are also power users who always deliver more information than the others. Actually, they are the “head” in the long tail theory.

Social media means social information. No matter what form of information it is, it becomes a waste if the information is overloaded and beyond the information receiver’s absorbing capability. It may be one solution to establish a system that can filter information and connect different media platforms, but the system has already existed. In the beginning, I felt very exhausted while managing several social media simultaneously. I had difficulties dealing with the huge amount of information from Twitter, let alone other information from blog, Facebook, and etc. When I wonder how to organize the information from different social media, a classmate showed me the website of “hootsuite” which enables me to filter information, and access to the updates of all the social media in one website. Then I greedily thought, “If only Hootsuite could connect different social media!” So when Kate showed me how to achieve this, I almost cried “Hooray” out! In fact, it is the nature of all social media products to encourage their users to be linked with each other social media product because it not only expands the users’ personal networks, but also expends the market share of the product itself.

Though the efficiency could be dramatically improved, we still deal with various kinds of information from social media differently because of the conflict of “motivation”. According to Kadushin (2012), the motivation needed for safety and effectiveness weighs dominantly in the behaviour in the social networks. For me, the motivation for my professional networks is more effectiveness oriented, while that for my personal networks is more safety oriented. The different motivations decide different “styles”, ways, and even attitudes to different social media. For example, Linked-in is my professional social network; Facebook is very personal; Twitter and my blog on WordPress feature both. But when I log in all the social media, the boundaries blur. But anyway, I avoid talking about personal life and try to be in a natural tone in both professional and personal networks because I know every word will go to Linked-in. For my personal friends in Facebook, they have difficulty figuring out what I am talking about, especially when they do not have any similar background. They may later realize that I go back to school from my work because I stop talking about my job and start talking a lot about my study and my course with terminology they are not familiar to. So I am considering disconnecting Linked-in with the other social media and keeping it as a pure professional communication channel as I can. Yet it is fascinating that there are different social media designed for different social motivations and they enable us to get together people with different motivations.

Therefore, as can be seen, I started with learning to use the social media, then saw its “homophily sparkling” light the fire to connect with more people and absorb more information, afterwards tried to improve the efficiency when filtering information and connecting different media forms, and realized my motivation played a vital role in manipulating them… but in front of all the known and/or unknown fascination, enjoyment, and excitement this fresh experience brings to me, I am still like a little girl in the rabbit hole, having more to explore.

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Why not the Revolution will not be Tweeted?

The New Yorker magazine is one of my favourite magazines because it features with very strong personal opinions of the writers. However, it seems that the article “Small Change” did not quite touch the real point in terms of the relationship between media and history, and the author seems to forget to hear the voice from the other side.

I admit that Twitter, and the other social media, is not revolutionary, and is not the cause of any revolution because according to the Winston Model, every media is the reputation of history, and one can always find an “embryonic form” back in the history. There are whole bunch of works to elaborate this theory that “nothing is new under sunshine”, e.g., the Victorian Internet. Basically speaking, the media, including social media is nothing but tools. It is beneficial to the media authorities, and it can also be taken advantage of by the terrorist. If that is the reason why we cannot use it, it is very ridiculous. It is similar to the hypothesis that we cannot use forks because someone is going to kill the others with them.

However, this is not the point. The point is that the roles media played in the social movement should not be ignored. It is not the media which leads to a social movement, but that the media enabled the revolution, to some extent, or from a specific perspective.  Without printing, Martin Luther would not have started the Religious Reformation; without the thriving of broadcasting industry, including TV and radio, the social movement of civil-right would not have been possible. The example the article used at the beginning is the best example to prove it. There is a “REPOTER” who is spreading the information for the four students, isn’t there?

We are not expecting that the revolution will be reported by Twitter. The fact is that it is being twittered. What makes people feel “fever” about the “revolution”, as the article mentioned, is not the media, but the revolution itself.

 

Interdependent Media, not Independent Media Centre

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The readings on the IMC (Independent Media Centre) remind me of my first time that there is a hierarchy in the media world. It was when I watch the news reports on the preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The reporter was proudly showing around the new Media Centre designed and constructed for the Olympics. She proudly announced that one of the rooms will be the reporting centre for CCTV (China Central Television), and she declared that this room is much bigger than the reporting centre of the other countries with more seats and more equipment. I was wondering why? Is that a routine for the Olympic Games that there will be a larger media centre for the host country? Thanks to the reading, I have a better understanding on the question.

I think it is a little bit ironic to call them “Independent Media Centres” because it is actually “interdependent” other than “independent”, and there is no “centre” at all. In plain English, it is a platform built on social media where everyone can participate in share, edit media products to convey information for the increasing social movements that pursue “new democracy”. Because everyone is a publisher, an editor, a producer, so there is no leader, so there is no centre. Though the name “independent ” indicates this media is not controlled either by the government or by the broadcasting authorities, it is actually a media requires all the participants independent on each other, at the same time, it is a media form that includes every media form, including the traditional media forms, such as printing, radio, and even words on the wall (semiotic communication tradition).

 

Is Social Capital in Cyberspace a Negative Thing?

Earlier in the class of Comm506 of MACT program, we talked about the switch of the “capital” in cyber age, we draw a conclusion that the capital is becoming more intelligence oriented. Through the whole class, we learned a lot about how to add “values” to our social networks, e.g., through generosity, through adding links, and through connecting different social networks, in order to increase our social capital.

However, social capital can be negative. It does not happen only in the cyberspace. For example, the singer Whitney Huston died because of her negative social capital. She got addicted to drugs because of her boyfriend, and died of diseases resulting from the addiction.

For me, the negativeness and postiveness of social capital between dyads always happen at the same time, and it all depends on which perspective is the observer standing.  The social capital always involves a trade-off and a balance process.

The negativeness of the social capital in cyberspace is easy to be ignored because the interactions are indirect, or sometimes, people feel it indirect. I do not think it is easy to generate a guideline on how to maximize the positeveness and avoid negativeness. However, I think it should be similar to the real life because cyber life is part of our life, not a completely new separate space requiring another set of etiquettes.

Maybe it is better to put it in a simple way: keep your mind open, and do not forget to keep your eyes open.

 

Cyber Values Matters

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As we go deeper to the discussions on various aspects of social media, more and more “dark” sides are unpacked. For a long time, I believe that there are two fascinating things about social media that hold people together: first, people overcome the barriers of time, space, languages and cultural background to share and collaborate; secondly, individuals with various kinds of values have a state or platform to freely express themselves and form, develop and expand their own organizations.

Basically speaking, we are not only exposed to a world of information and data, but also are exposed to a world of values. After reading the article “Girls Around Me”, I cannot help asking who is going to be the one who is responsible for filter this information? And more important, who is going to be the one who set up a “value guide” for us?

These two questions are actually one because without a value judgement, a filter of information may not be accomplished. And at the same time, the information one filtered always manifested one’s value. When we are facing the “net generation”, are we going to stick to the traditional values frameworks, or we should start consider whether it is necessary to set up a new value judgement for the net generation.

In my opinion, I think the traditional values still weigh a lot in the cyberspace. I think one urgent measure to take is that we need to let the social media users, including the net generation, realize that every click or word matters. It may be too complicated to argue who should be the responsible party for our safety and protection in cyberspace, but there is no doubt that the first step is from knowing about what influence it may cause when we register an account, when we send an email, when we click a link, and when we join a group. So I think there should be a third reason why social media can hold people together: people can control their information by themselves and build up the designed social networks based on their needs.

The freedom without knowledge is very dangerous, and it is not the freedom we want in cyberspace.

 
Aside

Today’s topic is Networks of Power. There are a bunch of questions after I read the articles: Do we need power in cyberspace? If we do, what kind of power it is? Will it be something we familiar or something new? Will the power powerful?

In our daily life, power is everywhere but difficult to be sensed. It is difficult to be sensed because, partially, we get used to it.  If we borrow the idea that “the cyberspace is a mirror of the real world”, we can draw a natural conclusion that the power will be in the cyber space. I bet that many of the “netizen” familiar with what this power are influencing their digital life in some way or to some extent. We may fight with them fiercely when we do not pay enough attention to the new power networks in the cyberspace.

Not too long time ago, Wikipedia shows its “power” to the world. Of course, someone may justify it that the shut-down activity is for protesting the “power” in the real world. However, the power of the intelligence and knowledge should not be neglected only because they may use this power in a positive way or on a positive trend. There is an irony in this event that not all of the Wikipedians agree to block the website to protest pending anti-piracy bills. Actually, there is a voting process before the decision was made. The fact in this event is that most members’ voice makes the final decision. Does it sound familiar?

Will the power powerful in cyberspace? Let us wait and see.

Will the Power Powerful in Cyberspace?

 

Some thinkings on the longest chapter

Wow, finally I finish the readings for this long chapter. What a chapter with all kinds of complicated concepts and theories! After reading all of these, I do have a question falls into category of “eggs and chicken”. In terms of the relationship between an individual and his/her social networks, is that the individual shapes or builds up the social network first, or are the social networks this individual has shape who he or she is first?

People get used to judge one person on the basis of their judgement on the person’s social network because they believe one person is similar to the persons he or she hangs out. It is difficult to distinguish whether these judgements is on the person’s social circle or on the person’s social group, therefore, these judgement can be very unfair and inaccurate.

If we have a close look at the one’s group selection, we will find out that most of our group selection is a two-way process, which is very different from the cases in biology cases, as one of our readings describes. The ants and bees cannot actually choose or select their group. As soon as they are involved with a particular group, they cannot change the group or choose who they want to work with. But apparently, we can. The human being’s group selection is more flexible and more dynamic. At the same time, the group can select an individual. For example, a professional organization may contact a well-known expert in a certain field and invite this expert to be its member.

However, as a member of this natural ecological system, human beings have some group selections that they cannot decide at all. As soon as we are born in a particular family, a group selection has been accomplished automatically. We are in a particular social group based on the location and the social networks of our parents and the other family members.

The question comes again: which one comes first? It seems that the one way group selection comes first. We have a social networks framework since we were born. This framework depends on many factors that we cannon choose. Within this framework, we select our group, and also are selected by groups. Where social media fits in? For me, social media expand this framework in terms of time and space.