Social Networking – New Research

The UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) has just published new quantitative and qualitative research on social networking in the report Social Networking
A quantitative and qualitative research report into attitudes, behaviours and use
.

The report categorizes users and non-users:

Users:

  • Alpha Socialisers (a minority) – people who used sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people, and be entertained.
  • Attention Seekers – (some) people who craved attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
  • Followers – (many) people who joined sites to keep up with what their peers were doing.
  • Faithfuls – (many) people who typically used social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  • Functionals – (a minority) people who tended to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.

Non-users:

  • Concerned about safety – people concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
  • Technically inexperienced – people who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  • Intellectual rejecters – people who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.

These categories are similar to those reported by Alec Couros in his post Digital Footprint: Where Do You Fit In? about the Pew/Internet study. This Ofcom report provides a more detailed categorization but the themes are the same.

The Ofcom report also provides a balanced approach to the risk analysis. It supports the study published in American Psychologist, Internet “Predators” and their Victims, that separates the safety risk from the actual incidents. (See also Kevin Jarrett’s post for a commentary.)

The report includes a significant literature review, but also indicates there remain gaps in the research, intimating that behaviour may have geographically, and presumably then culturally, based differences. I found this latter comment intriguing – do social networks remove time and space from relationships? are they a reflection of real life? does the networking site itself reflect a particular use? My Twitter network is not geographically bound, but I am aware of many teens that use social networking sites as a social organizing tool.

This work makes an important contribution to the growing body of evidence about social networking, but still perhaps asks as many questions as it answers.

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