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
2 Definition The term “social networking” does not exclusively belong to digital technology on theWeb. On the contrary, social networks had been studied from the beginning of 20th centurywith the aim to comprehend how the members of a certain community interact and whichmechanism can determine the interaction itself. Today social networking commonly refers to all those activities that are carried outwithin specific online services that provides free space and software tools which allow tocreate networks of people. In other words, a social networking service is a Web site thatallows individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile. The mechanism is the following: social networking services enable users to create aprofile for themselves, by inserting their personal data. Users’ data are not only constituted by vital statistics, but they include a lot of otherinformation which pertains to user hobbies, passions, interests, professional background andso on. This kind of personal data, all spontaneously provided by the user her/himself, permitto create interconnected networks of people who decide to put in common their interests andto have an online identity which fully describes them. The great strength of social networking are the multiple ways the users have tointeract. Below is a list of the main communication resources used to build social networks: chat; messaging; wiki; email; video; voice; chat;
3 file sharing; blogging; discussion groups. Brief History All the technologies listed above are not new to the Web users who had been surfingthe 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 intouch with old school friends), go back to 1995, while recent phenomenon, such as Facebookand MySpace, go back to 2003. In the figure that follows there is a timeline (it starts from 1997) where it is possible tonote the increasing number of social networking sites during the last four/five years. It will beuseful to remind that not all these Web sites constitutes “real” new service, but in many casesthey are only a marketing strategy adopted to re-launch certain brands.
4 Figure 1. Timeline of the launch dates of many major SNSs and dates whencommunity sites re-launched with SNS features
5 Context It is not possible to describe social networking without considering the current statusof the Web, which is commonly defined “2.0”. The biggest innovation in Web 2.0 is thepossibility for users to directly and easily create contents, even if they do not possesstechnical skills. This content production is continuous and the social networking sites that areseeing strong growth are continually refreshed by user generated content. In particular, all the software tools that deal with digital communities are available forfree 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 anauthor. Below are some data that summarize the growth of social networking service andtheir general relevance. In the table are listed ten social networking sites; for each site areindicated in column the millions of unique visitors for April 2005 and April 2006, and theyear over year growth percentage.The same data are visually represented in the other chart. Site Apr-05 UA (000) Apr-06 UA (000) YOY Growth MySpace 8,21 38,359 367% Blogger 10,301 18,508 80% Classmates Online 11,672 12,865 10% YouTube N/A 12,505 N/A MSN Groups 12,352 10,57 -14% AOL Hometown 11,236 9,59 -15% Yahoo! Groups 8,262 9,165 11% MSN Spaces 1,857 7,165 286% Six Apart TypePad 5,065 6,711 32% Xanga.com 5,202 6,631 27% Figure 2. Nielsen Top 10 Social Networking Sites
6 Figure 3. Nielsen/NetRatings Top 10 Social Networking Sites chart From the charts above it is possible to say that social networking is certainly arelevant element in our digital lives, giving to all users the opportunity to keep in contact witha large number of different communities by subscribing to specific services that offersspecialized platforms for video, blog, photos, etc. Applications for ITDE Social networking represents a big resource for e-learning, because of its big impacton the World Wide Web. In fact, the social networking online services implemented a newmodel of knowledge management, totally based upon the worldwide voluntary contributionof 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 isstrongly and quickly decreasing; the new generations seem to be extremely familiar with thiskind of approach to the Web. According to a January 2007 survey by the Pew Internet &
7American Life Project, 55 percent of teens (ages 12 to 17) report having created a personalprofile online, and an equal number regularly use social networking sites such as MySpace orFacebook. 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 comfortablewith - living in the digital world. Thus, it follows that their teaming should become more digital, say proponent ofsocial networking in distance education. For these reasons, social networking is a bigresource for ITDE designing and developing and it could become the “trojan horse” toameliorate 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 acquisitionexperience 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 anyeducation program should consider how it will impact on the preexistent knowledge systemof the learners. In fact, interrelated knowledge systems not only contribute to expand the Webbut 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). Thisis 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 whendigital learning objects’ and materials’ repository are created and maintained in an online e-learning platform.
8 Many of the innovative “social software” is crucial in supporting learning andknowledge processes because they provide the opportunity to develop shared knowledgeconstruction, meta-cognitive reflection and knowledge production. That is why social networking is bringing distance education to a collaborativelearning model which could not “erase” the digital behavior of the learner but drawadvantage 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.
9 Figure 4. User participation for social networking instruments Among the various professional listed in the previous page, the ITDE manager is theone who supervises the entire developing of distance education programs. Thus, she/heshould have a very clear representation of all those social networking activities that stronglydeal with education methodologies and didactic strategies. In fact, it is quite clear that social networking heavily contributed to mix formal andinformal learning; that is because distance education can be even delivered through apersonal 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 preexistingdigital networks are structured in order to let the learners interact and transform theireducational performances in social performance. If users spend a lot of time joining online communities, building new ones andinteracting to communicate thoughts, experiences, etc., there is already a kind of learningprocess, very informal and very spontaneous.
10 Today the mission of ITDE professionals (and managers, in particular) is to designspecific 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 thecontrary, in online courses, a platform should reflect, in some way, the social networkingphilosophy. This could be done by offering learner most of the communication tool she/heuses everyday It is a fact that most of online platforms are following this approach, that is toconsider the learners interaction a central element and a precious structure to implementseveral didactic strategies, not only those which are determined by specific psychologicalparadigms. Thereby, social networking constitutes itself an approach to distance education, beingan uninterrupted chain of knowledge sharing through the Internet. If millions of Web usersare at least members of a community, then it is reasonable that they all have a complex andpersonal identity, which could tell us a lot of things on what they really know and on theexperiences they have. Social networking could really help to discover new ways to communicate knowledgeby moving the focus toward a more and more ubiquitous learning developed by communityinteractions.
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