Hargittai. E. 2007. Whose Space?
And since I am in the process of analyzing what kind of research has been done on web.20 for a proposed article for Web2.o conference in London, I will share my notes in the form as I have made them.
1. Research: Hargittai. E. 2007. Whose Space? Differences among users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Vol. 13 (1). Article 14.
2. Application: SNS
3. Aim: To see whether there are any systematic differences among users and non-users of sites despite a familiarity with them
4. research design: causal (but no hypotheses posed)
5. Theory: Some aspects of identity formation online versus offline (Turkle, 1975, Herring, 1993, Boyd 2001, Smith & Kollock, 1999) are mentioned. Mostly the author builds upon the notion of the digital divide, where not the question of access to the internet is addressed, but the question of what kind of uses are dividing different internet users on the basis of their socioeconomic status and social contexts of use.
6. Sample: mostly 18-19 year old college students of the
7. Method: “Paper” survey
8. Main results: Ethnicity is not a causal factor for overall SNS use, but it is for disaggregated uses of specific SNS services. Women are more likely to use SNS than men. Those living at home are less likely to use SNS than those living with roommates or alone.
Conclusions the author makes: 1. Students with varying background select different services, potentially limiting the extent to which they will interact with a diverse set of users. 2. Students who have more resources (soc. Context of use and experience) are spending more time on these sites and have more opportunities to benefit from them.
9. Ethical considerations: anonymity of respondents was assured, but no ethical considerations were provided by the author
10. Positive aspects:
This is certainly a well-needed research – to investigate the demographics of SNS users.
The author used regression analysis with which she checked whether the analyzed differences were statistically significant.
11. Negative aspects
Although the data on demographics of SNS users were needed for an overall descriptive knowledge of who uses these sites, there are some problems that have come to my mind with this research. The first of the problems considers methodology, others are conserned with theoretical foundations of the research and conclusions the author draws from the research.
First is the problem of sample – although students of a specific university are a valuable ofline and especially easy to collect sample with great response rate the problem I see is that students are a special category – as the author suggests – most of which do use SNS and any substantial conclusions regarding the overall demographics of SNS sites are to be avoided. This could be seen from the fact that overall SNS use id not determined by ethnicity, since all of the units in the sample are students (also suggesting the lack of explanative power of ethnicity). Furthermore, taking the sample of students resulted into a too small number of non-users of SNS, therefore failing to answer the question of differences among users and non-users.
Second, although the aim of the author is to specifically analyze demographics of users, there are no specific theoretical variables that would really explain why users with different ethnic background use different SNS services and why there are no differences among SNS uses overall. The author suggest that the reason may be that offline connections influence which SNS services a user will use, but there are no variables included in the survey that would test this implicit hypothesis. Overall, having only demographic variables does not really explain any causal relations, it is just a first step in research and more often than not it leaves us with questions and speculations that should necessarily be researched more into depth in the future research.
Third, just as the author did not include any variables about the offline network, she did not include any questions of motivation for participation or reasons for non-participation at the sites. The author thus fails to answer the main question she poses – how do users differentiate from non-users – although this is due mostly to the sample, it is highly unlikely that the answer would be found in “rough” variables such as ethnicity or how many hours per day and where an individual uses the internet. Furthermore, no theoretical discussion is present on possible reasons of assumed differences among users and non-users. The aim of the research thus lacks in ambition: the author only wants to see whether there are any differences which will be left to explain in future research.
Fourth, main conclusions made on use of SNS, are based on the pre-dispositions that SNS sites have positive benefits and that people interact with other ethnical groups when they are on the same SNS service. As far as I know, none of these predispositions have been tested, nor does the author provide any literature review of previous research on these presupposed benefits.
I conclude that this research is extremely needed step in analyzing demographics of SNS users, nevertheless it is helpful only as an informative case – the question of why are there differences in SNS services use has not been researched and should be explored more in depth in the future. The same is true for the question of who are the non-users and why?