Oh for more good social usage research

Pew recently released its study of Twitter usage showing that 19% of internet users currently use Twitter or a similar social messaging service. The study has some intriguing results, including a statistic showing that cyborgs love twitter best – the more internet connected devices someone owns, the more likely to use Twitter – with 39% of respondents with four or more devices. And that Twitter users often come from the population that already uses social networking: “Internet users who already use social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn are also likely to use Twitter (35%), compared with just 6% of internet users who do not use such social network sites.”

danah boyd compares the social use of Facebook status update and Twitter posts in an interesting blog post with an even more interesting comment thread in which people share personal stories about how they use each service differently. There are some common patterns, and also some differences in personal style and social comfort – some find Facebook a more congenial place for private, and Twitter for public/professional posts, while others find Twitter’s open network more socially congenial.

The data from the Pew study is interesting but “thin” – the information about mobile and connected use says very little about how people actually incorporate these tools into their mobile, connected social lives. The stories in danah’s post are richer, but they are they are anecdotes from people who read danah boyd – surely not a representative sample of social network users 🙂

The discussion on danah’s site raises questions about individual temperament, about the social structure of people’s personal and professional lives, about preferences for conversation with known people and new people, about the affect on the use of the tools on networks of relationships in the world. It would be great to have more information than the fascinating comments conversation.

Oh for more good research on the social use of social software, that asks good questions about how people integrate and perceive social tools in life and work, and that reveals more interesting patterns than simple stereotypes (often a sign of not such good questions).

What are your favorite social software studies? Favorite researchers? References welcome.

3 thoughts on “Oh for more good social usage research”

  1. Alas, these things take time. The questions you want answers to can’t be answered through surveys alone; they require ethnographic examination, qualitative interviewing, etc. And they require sampling that is difficult to do. I’m one of the few researchers who is willing to put early impressions out there through caricatures (which are definitely not ideal as research findings). There is research underway, but it’ll be a while until we really start to see the fruits of that labor.

  2. danah, I think the caricatures can be helpful in sparking deeper conversation and awareness of the issues and subtleties before more research is done – certainly the case with the discussion thread on your post. Thanks for doing it! And looking forward to more good research from your group and others 🙂

    Though these are social norms, and there is a heisenbergian effect – describing social norms can reinforce them – will the description of twitter as “for professional projecting” and facebook as “for close conversation” actually encourage people to retreat from more personal expression and informal relationship-building on twitter, for example.

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