A Comparison of On and Offline Networks through the Facebook API
8 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2009 Last revised: 26 Jan 2009
Date Written: December 18, 2008
Social Network Sites (SNS) are a part of everyday social activity for millions around the world (boyd and Ellison, 2007). Sites vary in their affordances, audiences and scope. While some sites cater to specific interest group audiences and 'niche' networks, others, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace are designed to be general purpose 'social utilities'. Are these sites in fact general purpose social utilities? If so, we should expect to find not only an overlap between the pre-existing personal network and the Facebook network, but also a logic that can connect the two. At present, a host of studies are emerging that take Facebook networks as a stand-in for the 'real' social networks of individuals. The study of community structure through Facebook is meant to signify actual community structure (Traud, Kelsic, Mucha, and Porter, 2008). The study of taste on Facebook is meant to signify actual differences and clusters in taste (Lewis, Kaufman, Gonzalez, Wimmer, and Christakis, 2008). These studies, by virtue of their research design, do not actually measure or examine the personal network. Instead, they capture a slice of Facebook's database and assert that for the group in question (generally college students), it is a reliable proxy for the network of active ties. However, if we are to continue down this road, it is important to connect these networks to the pre-existing studies of personal networks and networking. This enables researchers to leverage past insights on personal networks (such as theories of foci, closure, multiplexity and so forth, c.f., Fischer, 1982) and because it is an important validity check on these online networks. This paper is a research outline and a preliminary quantitative autoanalysis of the relationship between the personal network and one's Facebook network. Insofar as Facebook is the most popular social utility for individuals in the United Kingdom and Canada, it is an ideal candidate to examine how personal networks manifest themselves online (or to the extent that they do so).
Keywords: social network sites, social utilities, social networks, community structure, personal networks, online, Internet, Facebook
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