Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Confessions of a 14-year old internet addict...

It is a shame that Boyd begins her study of teen social-networking sites with Friendster in 2002. While Friendster certainly "popularized certain features that define contemporary social networking sites", teen identity-modelling and publicizing social interactions online significantly predated this.

I choose not to focus on AOL profiles because, while they offered searchability, replicability and availability to invisible audiences, they did not permit communication (which was instead undertaken via e-mail or AIM, and un-hierarchized save for assigning contacts to certain "groups" on an individual's "buddylist"). Instead, Boyd's article brought to mind the vast network of personal websites, maintained by HTML-savvy teens around (memory serving) 2001.

This was a world that I stumbled upon purely by chance: under their own domain names, teens created a network composed of their own slickly designed personal websites. Each site had generally the same content: a blog, a detailed biographical section, a guestbook and a list of links to other similar sites. This was without a doubt an example of the Internet as an "elite tool and toy" (Wellman). These kids had insanely good coding / design skills governed by a certain protocol: the graphic layout of one's website must change frequently (presumably to show off coding talent and to remain visually interesting to visitors). Teens "plugged" their favorite personal websites into their blog-posts, or, as an even greater honor, created a permanent link on their site's home page. Webcams were also de rigeur. Usually updated daily, physical attractiveness garnered hits.

Since these sites were created by an elite group with a certain skill-set, the network was limited. This allowed for the creation of sites like the now-defunct internetgossip.net and games like "Survivorcam" (perhaps no need for explanation other than the game's slogan "Outpost. Outshine. Outwhore"). These sites relied on the online relationships that these teens formed with eachother, as well as the relationships they formed with their non-participating audience. A mention on internetgossip.net was the holy grail of teen cam/bloggers- purely owing to the fact that for some bizarre reason, even those passively observing this social network cared about the goings-on of people in it. Myspace celebrities abound, but the foundations for online social popularity were laid far earlier than Friendster.

At this point I should probably add that I had one of these sites for, you know, like 2 seconds. My HTML skills were shoddy at best, and once my free trial of Dreamweaver ended, all bets were off. For the record, I never had a webcam...that was a little too weird.

This kind of social network is significant because teens used their web-savvy to set up their own structure in which to participate, and to establish their own protocol. This network connected teens not with their "real life" friends, but with "online friends", making social networking less about fitting in among one's peers than creating a whole other arena in which to assimilate. Personally, I think they deserve a little credit.

1 comment:

Jason Norin said...

As a subscriber of an Australian broadband service provider, I find this post really sad considering I have a kid of my own.