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Why are social scientists interested in social networking sites?

Updated Tuesday, 12th April 2011

Social networking is a relatively young form of communication - and Daniel Miller and others are developing our understanding of how it connects and changes.

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Understanding ‘the social’ and processes of ‘networking’ are central to the endeavour of much of social science – so Daniel Miller’s and others’ interest in social networking sites is unsurprising.

They offer new breadth of new opportunities for gathering data on patterns of communication and connection, and are an increasingly rich source of data about values, taste and lifestyles.

Whereas the press and broadcasting (both now generally in decline) both involved a model of ‘one to many’, due to the nature of broadcasting technology and printing economies of scale, with social media not only are viewers, listeners or users ‘talking back’, but they are also talking to one another, their communication no longer mediated by press and broadcasting organisations and the associated journalists, producers and others.

Their ‘talking’ involves both multimedia (text, still and moving images and sound) and global reach – with new forms of Internet communities spanning the globe.

The Trinidadian diaspora’s use of the Internet which Miller researched with Don Slater is one example of these dimensions of Internet communication. In the Middle East today, blogs and social networking sites are enabling mostly young activists to not only talk with one another but also to submit content to the mainstream media, notable Al Jazeera.

Some see such user-generated content as reinforcing the power of traditional media organisations whilst others see it as democratising cultural production.

The history of communications media and technologies shows us that new media tend to be added to rather than replace earlier media; and today we can see media organisations trying to accommodate and harness the possibilities afforded by social media.

Daniel Miller and his work

 

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