Friday, July 31, 2009

Mom & Popism

[Photograph from the upcoming exhibition reinterpreting James and Kala Murray's latest book, Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York. The exhibit, set for August 15 in the Bowery, brings together the work of 28 notable graffiti and street artists; each was invited to create new artworks on top of life-sized reproductions of James and Kala Murray's store-front photographs. Collaborating artists include Blanco, Buildmore, Cake, Celso, Cern, Chris (RWK), Crome, Cycle, David Cooper, Destroy & Rebuild, Enamel Kingdom, Goldenstash, Infinity, Kngee, Lady Pink, Matt Siren, Morgan Thomas , Peru Ana Ana Peru, Plasma Slugs, Royce Bannon, Shai R. Dahan, Shiro, The Dude Company , Tikcy, Under Water Pirates, Veng (RWK), Zoltron and Billi Kid.]

(Image: Courtesy Store Front)

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Conversation Portraits


Flash Rosenberg, the New York Public Library’s artist-in-residence, characterizes herself as the kind of social commentator who couldn’t have been possible before the Internet. Before, illustrations could take days, if not weeks, to render. Today, the real-time Web is spawning a demand for real-time illustration; Rosenberg draws what other people talk about—while they're talking.

Rosenberg's drawings “give visual, unifying fluency to conversations” that are otherwise, she says, "too complex and fragmented in today’s digital and visual world to be universally understood.” Social media, she says, are influencing the nature and pace of conversations. "When we talk and when we don’t talk, when we understand what somebody else is saying and when we don’t —these kinds of disconnects are all so more common now," she says.

It helps that Rosenberg has a sense of humor: humor, she says, is itself an abstraction—a type of shorthand for making a point, and nobody is immune—not even herself—from her use of it as a descriptor. “I come from a long line of the funny-guy-at-work and I’m the one who forgot to get work,” she quips.

Rosenberg began her career as a photographer and performance artist/professional storyteller by working as an editorial cartoonist in Delaware. She legally changed her first name from Susan to Flash after winning an award for best costume at a society Halloween ball she was hired to photograph in Philadelphia, early in her career. “I was asked to wear a costume so I thought it appropriate to go as a censored photograph,” says Rosenberg, who was teaching photography at Temple University at the time. “I put duct tape on my privates. There were incredible people wearing incredible costumes, but when it was time to announce the winner, the jurors announced that the photographer—me—was the winner. When somebody in the crowd asked for my name, I hesitated and somebody else yelled out, ‘Her name is Flash.’” It stuck.

Rosenberg is the first to acknowledge that her art can sometimes be awkward, depending on the subject matter. “The horrors of war are not comfortably translated into instant live drawings,” she said following a stint of live-portraiture that accompanied an April 24th panel at the New York Public Library on the turmoil in the Middle East. “It’s not because I couldn’t think of what to draw,” she explains, “but because line art automatically tends to simplify concepts to the optical equivalent of a cartoon. It was awkward but a mighty fine experiment.”

One of Rosenberg’s most popular conversation portraits accompanies a NYPL reading by actor John Lithgow of Chapter Two of Who Is Mark Twain? one of Mark Twain’s never-before published works. Another example is a conversation portrait she made of a panel talk moderated by PBS host Charlie Rose, about the slumping economy.

Marcia Stepanek

(This piece first appeared on PopTech and is being reposted here with permission)

Image: Flash Rosenberg for the New York Public Library

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Global Wiring

Thanks to social media, says British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, "foreign policy can never be the same again." In remarks delivered at TED Global 2009 this past week in Oxford, Brown said the Web is offering the world an historic chance for grassroots, collaborative problem-solving. Political and governmental institutions, he says, can no longer be run only by elites.

"Take what modern technology is capable of: the power of our moral sense allied to the power of modern communications and our ability to organize internationally. That, in my view, gives us the first opportunity as a [global] community to fundamentally change the world.
Foreign policy can never be the same again. It cannot be run by elites. It's got to be run by listening to the public opinions of people who are blogging, communicating with each other around the world."

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Collision Course

In his landmark 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody, NYU new media professor Clay Shirkey wrote about the many new self-organized groups cropping up on the Web—and how some are already turning the Establishment on its ear:

"...Business models are being transformed at dizzying speeds and the larger social impact is so profound that it's underappreciated. Now someone with a laptop can spark a movement that changes the fortunes of a billion-dollar industry or even help to topple a government."

But now comes writer-researcher Mark Pesce to crank it all up another notch. Pesce, on the conference circuit this summer, says this trend toward self-organized groups is not only accelerating, it's hurling us all into a future that will look "almost nothing like the past." In the years ahead, he says, there will be more power conflicts between these new Web-strong "adhocracies" and the top-down hierarchies that have dominated and defined our culture for centuries.

"The configuration of power has changed—its distribution, its creation, its application,” says Pesce. Trouble is, he says, this transformation cannot be controlled, and "some [people and organizations] will get hurt" in the process.

“….What happens now as things speed up will be a bit like what’s happening in the guts of the Large Hadron Collider: different polities (political organizations) and institutions will smash and reveal their inner workings like parts strewn from crashed cars …Some of these particles and collisions will be governments or quasi-governments; some look nothing like them ...These institutions are first and foremost the domain of people, people who are ill-prepared for the whiplash or the sudden impact of the dashboard. Someone is going to get hurt.”

One of the first battles in this digital dust-up, says Pesce, pits the Church of Scientology against Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia recently banned the Church from editing its own Wikipedia entry in an attempt to burnish its image. “Wikipedia is a social agreement,” Pesce says, and was able to resist those efforts because it is not a traditional hierarchy that exists in a top-down management structure. It has so far been immune to lawsuits by the church; there is no one to sue. Church efforts to “break” Wikipedia, Pesce says, would need to destroy the social contract that defines the Web-based encyclopedia's collaborative structure. “How this skirmish plays out in the months and years to come will be driven by these two wildly different organizations,” Pesce says. “The church is a modern religious hierarchy: all power and control comes from the top down. With Wikipedia, nobody can be said to be in charge.”

Another instructive show-down: Project Houdini, the Obama campaign’s 2008 citizen mobilization campaign. As election day approached last fall, Pesce says, "the strict hierarchy of the main campaign headquarters couldn’t handle the barrage of information coming in from the public, and the project died a quick death." Future political campaigns, he says, must learn how to better accommodate the input of the crowds.

Pesce says top-down hierarchies cannot share power with these new Web-powered groups. “Only in transformation can a hierarchy find its way to a successful relationship with these hyper-intelligent adhocracies." he says. "Change or be changed."

"We are leaving this comfortable and familiar time behind. We are headed into a world where actors of every shape and description are finding themselves challenged by adhocracies. The truth is this: those now in power must surrender some power or be overwhelmed by it. Sharing power is not the idea of some Utopian future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.”

For more on Pesce, see the video, below—his speech to conferees at this year's Personal Democracy Forum gathering in Manhattan:

(This post written by Marcia Stepanek)

(Illustration, top, by Magdalena Tworkowska for

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Digital Fish

Here's a good use of social media for change. Note how this group, the Iraqi and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is integrating a well-done, viral recruitment video (below) with its launch of two private, online social networks on Ning. The three-pronged strategy creates instant engagement and drives membership into IAVA's month-old Community members help each other work for the cause—in this case, their own reintegration. (IAVA's separate, online Family and Friends network—also private—closes the circle, providing further, back-up support and engagement for returning veterans.) For more on the use of private social networks by nonprofits to drive recruitment, retention, support, and engagement, see Members Only, posted here earlier this week.)

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Tweets + 12s = video twitter?

If tweets were short video clips instead of words, they'd probably be something out of —a Twitter-like video-messaging startup based in Santa Cruz, Calif., that's already starting to bend the rules of both social advocacy and marketing. Tweets are 140 characters long; a video lasts no more than 12 seconds—a kind of talking, moving, real-time snapshot that can capture anything from an opinion to a baby's first steps to a feeling or a news flash. “It’s a different way to engage with someone on the Web,” says cofounder Sol Lipman.

Unlike most of the fare on YouTube, 12seconds’ videos—known as "12s"—are uber-short and often emotionally evocative glimpses of “right-now” moments, more like a memorable photograph and a feeling than a story. [See the 12-second Me Plus Italy, above]. Also different about 12s, says Lipman, is that they're made mostly for consumption—for the people who would watch them. To be sure, video-messaging represents a new step in the evolution of social media that offers fresh opportunities for creative expression, event coverage, and persuasion.

Big advertisers and new-wave nonprofits are sitting up and taking notice, especially now that the new iPhone3GS is fueling a bump-up in 12seconds' traffic. A variety of advertising and marketing agencies have approached Lipman and his colleagues, looking to sign up 12seconds to co-create user-generated content for brands ranging from M&Ms to LG Electronics to Adidas.

Consider the startup’s recent “12omercials” [tweet-able commercials] for Adidas, called the 12th Man Campaign. The initiative asked members [known as 12ers] to create their own 12-second shorts to broadcast their enthusiasm for England’s Chelsea Football Club during the run-up to tomorrow’s friendly soccer match against the Seattle Sounders. Participating 12ers made videos in May and June to earn a 12th man spot on the Chelsea bench. Adidas has been running some of the better 12s on the JumboTron in Seattle’s Safeco Field. But only this clip won the contest, which ended last week. (Here’s another that made the finals.)

12seconds is trying the same formula to help boost the visibility of some nonprofits, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Summer of Social Good, and Earth Hour. The Summer of Social Good campaign, for example—organized by Mashable—asked 12seconds to invite its community to film people (and themselves) saying what they would do or give up to benefit the good of society. Here’s one of the three, 12-second spots that won a free Kodak Zi6 pocket video camera for its producer. “I don’t think we’ve been able to raise tons of money directly for nonprofits yet,” says Lipman, “but I think 12seconds is a great tool for spreading the word, creating a video brand, and then giving people a bunch of great content to utilize.”

Lipman says about 60 percent of the videos appearing on are produced on Web cams, 30 percent on mobile phones, and about 10 percent in video uploads. But that’s soon to change: With the iPhone3GS, Lipman says there’s been a surge in the number of mobile spots across the site. "Mobile, in general, is just beginning to become this huge opportunity to bring us all closer together,” Lipman says.

What do you think?

—Marcia Stepanek

(Top video: Me Plus Italy, courtesy Italyworkshop on
(NOTE: This post first appeared on and is being re-posted here with permission)

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Here's Bernhard Drax's coverage, in Second Life, of President Barack Obama's July 11 speech to the people of Ghana, which Drax calls "one of the most tweeted, facebooked, and SMS'ed events" of the six-month-old Administration.

Drax's engaging, mixed-media report blends virtual and offline interviews and video clips to explore the way social media were used by Obama's team to distribute Obama's speech to Africans lacking direct access to the Internet. But the real highlight is Drax's coverage of the interactive, global speech-viewing party convened in Second Life during Obama's remarks and an SL panel discussion that followed, featuring Kenton Keith, the former ambassador to Qatar, and Timothy Burke, an expert in African history.

Drax also interviewed some of the people who sent their avatars to both gatherings. Julius Sowu, who left Ghana for the U.K. in 1981, praised the opportunity he and others from around the world had to convene digitally in one place at one time to discuss Obama's speech as it was happening. Social media [including SL and other uses of the metaverse], he told Drax, are transforming politics and public engagement in profound new ways. "Gone are the days when a news story would break, (Ghana's) minister would send it to the media department to resolve the issue and then present the world with a comment about the issue," Sowu says. "Now that it's on Twitter, it's on Facebook, and it's on Second Life, the minister doesn't have time to spin it."

[NOTE: The suited avatar wearing eyeglasses and headphones is Draxtor Despres, Drax's alter-ego in Second Life, who is narrating the story.]

For more on Drax and his work, see Mo' Real, an earlier post on Cause Global by Marcia Stepanek about news reporting in Second Life.

—Marcia Stepanek

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Members Only

Ning isn't new. But more organizations and causes are starting to use this fast-growing niche social network to build private, invitation-only communities online for their supporters and the people they serve.

Since February 2007, Ning has registered more than 27 million members. Cofounder Gina Bianchini says there have been nearly 1.3 million social networks created so far on Ning, with some 40 percent of them built as private networks. Bianchini told attendees of the recent 2009 Personal Democracy Forum in Manhattan that "these types of social networks make your [nonprofit's] purpose immediately obvious."

Because the Net has taken out the middleman in many transactions, many charities are scrambling to reinvent themselves as community aggregators. Creating tight-knit online groups of donors—or those in need of their aid—can help a charity reclaim its relevancy and reassure donors of its impact. The more exclusive and qualified the community, the greater its social capital—and the more credible a nonprofit's claims of effectiveness.

So what’s different about a private Ning? No uninvited guests—no childhood freinds, as on Facebook. No distant cousins. No former employees tracking you down. No mom.

Not everyone likes the idea of a gated digital enclave, especially for social causes. Some charity leaders say a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status obligates it to offer open public access, always. But others argue that donors and recipients of philanthropy, alike, should be given a private place to share personal stories and get help—without fear of being stalked, ridiculed, or exploited by digital strangers. “Privacy is back in vogue online when it comes to some of these social networks," says Bianchini—especially among younger philanthropists looking to connect without exposing themselves to solicitation.

Here are some private, nonprofit Nings gaining in visibility:, launched on June 29 at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum by the nonprofit, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans (IAVA). Though less than a month old, this Ning has close to 1,000 members who use the network’s members-only policy to get help for such health issues as insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sure, IAVA’s public site works hard to woo philanthropists of all stripes to its cause. But it’s IAVA’s link to its private Ning that makes its mission immediately clear and credible to anyone visiting the site for the first time, Bianchini says.

The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. This nonprofit has two social networks on Ning. There is a semi-private site called Netroots, which enables Americans to connect with Iraqi allies now living in the States. [“Visitors to the site can see where the Iraqis who live closest to them are located and then reach out to us to make connections,” says founder Kirk Johnson. "One Iraqi man found an American who taught his daughter how to drive."] The nonprofit also has a private Ning that Johnson describes as “a place strictly for Iraqis who have been resettled to collectivize their knowledge and share what they’re been going through." Many resettled Iraqis face the same issues, he says, like how to figure out Medicaid and how to reconfigure resumes for an American audience. Having both networks, says Johnson, helps donors come together to "put a face" on the need for their dollars.

NeighborsForNeighbors, or NFN. This nonprofit was founded by former Boston police officer Joseph Porcelli, to fight crime in his Jamaica Plains neighborhood of Boston. Once simply a neighborhood watch site, this months-old, semi-private social network of Boston community organizers now serves as a catalyst for everything from bottle recycling drives, anti-war demonstrations, and women’s-only bike rides through the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. Members are qualified for residency; no outsiders or commercial interlopers allowed. Porcelli says the site serves as a “soundboard for voices and a springboard for action. It’s where Boston works together online.”

Connected Peace Corps This private Ning has 13,000 members, “all former or current members of the Peace Corps who are using the network to share their knowledge and experiences across the generational divide,” says Bianchini.

Does your favorite cause offer supporters a private social network? Let us know. And tell us how effective you think these networks can be when it comes to raising funds and visibility.

—Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration: Eight Friends by Pahel_L for

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Crowdsourced Eulogies

Convinced there's nothing more to be shared online about Michael Jackson? Guess again. Webcams and cellphones are being used by people around the world this week to eulogize the late pop star well beyond his recent funeral.

Eternal Moonwalk, a new site from Belgian radio station Studio Brussel, asks visitors to submit a clip of themselves moonwalking. The video clips are then pieced together to create an endless moonwalk that slides across the page. Thousands of people from Madrid to Hastings, N.Z., to Antwerp to Naples to Tokyo, are submitting clips of themselves moonwalking through their kitchens, living rooms, front lawns—you name it. The site is becoming a global tribute to Michael Jackson and his most famous dance move.

Let us know if you've added your own clip.

(Still from video clip submitted to

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Saturday, July 4, 2009


Digital visualization wunderkind Jonathan Harris has just launched his latest art and technology effort. Called the Sputnik Observatory for Contemporary Culture, it's a Web site and blog that grew out of a two-year collaboration with New York-based Sputnik, Inc., an organization that documents contemporary culture through intimate, previously unpublished video interviews with hundreds of leading thinkers in the arts, sciences, and technology.

A range of innovators, including Vint Cerf to experimental geographer Trevor Paglen, game designer Will Wright, science writer Philip Ball, and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, among others, share "some of the most provocative human ideas to have emerged in the last few decades," Harris says. [Harris, himself, is featured, explaining his 2005 "We Feel Fine" project, a real-time survey of human emotions on the Web.] Adds Harris:

"The central premise of the Sputnik project is that everything is connected to everything else, and that topics and ideas that may seem fringe and even heretical to the mainstream world are in fact being investigated by leading thinkers working in fields as diverse as quantum physics, mathematics, neuroscience, biology, economics, architecture, digital art, video games, computer science and music. Sputnik is dedicated to bringing these crucial ideas from the fringes of thought out into the limelight, so that the world can begin to understand them; the site itself aims to highlight the interconnections between seemingly disparate thinkers and ideas, using a simple navigational system with no dead-ends, where every thought leads to another thought, akin to swimming the stream of consciousness."

Harris says there are about 200 videos on the site, and will be thousands more added over time. [Sputnik is a Russian word that means "co-traveler." It was the name the Russians gave to the robotic spacecraft missions they created in the 1950s to launch, in 1957, the first human-made object into Earth's orbit.]

(Illustration from Sputnik Observatory site)

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Speaking YouTube

YouTube contains a lot of irrelevant content: according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, some 20 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

But all of it represents a new form of cultural literacy, Wesch says—a new language of shared images and intensely personal revelations that can be used to connect people in new ways and, perhaps, even get them to care more about each other.

As a professor of introductory anthropology at Kansas State University, Wesch says he has a “front row seat" from which to watch new cultural trends emerge from the youngest adult generation, and for the past two-and-a-half years, Wesch has been inviting his students to help him analyze the vast YouTube community.

After trawling through mega-gigs of content, watching hours of videos and posting videos of their own, Wesch says, he and his students “are finding that the same conditions of ease and anonymity that enable people to get snarky online" can also encourage them to participate in meaningful and collaborative new projects. In fact, says Wesch, YouTube and other social media can mitigate the cultural tension between teens' conflicting needs for independence and community by offering them "connection without constraints." What looks like narcissism and individuality is actually a search for identity and recognition, Wesch told the digerati attending this week's Personal Democracy Forum in Manhattan. “In a society that doesn’t automatically grant identity and recognition, you have to create your own.”

Wesch says he's hopeful that social media will ease the “narcissistic disengagement” of many young people and encourage them to be more politically and civically engaged. Already, he says, some heroes have emerged—including the anonymous YouTube character who filmed himself giving hugs to strangers in the streets, and One World, the person who wore a Guy Fox mask and used his anonymity as a platform for collaboration, asking people to write messages on the palms of their hands and to hold them up to their Webcams for sharing. Millions of people shared this way, mostly about the need to love one another and to look beyond themselves.

“When I’m using a Webcam,” Wesch explains, “I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to it. When you’re Twittering, you’re not talking to me, you’re talking to it. Or when I’m on Facebook, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to it.” The point, says Wesch: When communicating face-to-face, people bring many different versions of themselves into a conversation based on the context of that conversation. “But when you’re sitting in front of a camera, or twittering to hundreds if not thousands of people in a community who you cannot see and who cannot see you, you don’t know who you are talking to or when or in what context, and so [communication via social media] it is forcing a kind of context collapse—a deeper level of self-awareness not present in simple, everyday conversation. People can get deeply self-reflective on YouTube and confessional…and reveal things they would otherwise refuse to reveal, even to their family and close friends.”

Wesch urged the journalists, business developers, and social media specialists attending PDF to start thinking of YouTube as "a new kind of public sphere" where new types of conversations and forms of communication can occur. “The YouTube debates [during last year's presidential election] were flawed in that they allowed TV to dictate that conversation," Wesch says. “We have an opportunity, on YouTube and with other social media, to create a whole new groundwork for the way these [civic] conversations work.”

Wesch then challenged attendees to help the culture move away "from its current state of 'whatever, I don't care' one in which we can say 'I care, let’s do whatever it takes by whatever means necessary.'"

[Wesch connected: attendees stopped tweeting long enough to give him a standing ovation.]

For more about Wesch and his observations about the cultural signifiance of social media, here's a lecture he gave last year at the Library of Congress:

(Post written by Marcia Stepanek)

(Webcam photo, top, from The Message video on YouTube)

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"White Flight" Online?

(I first wrote this post for PopTech and am reposting it here with permission)

For years, many people have been saying the Internet will be a “great social equalizer.” Give everyone access to technology, and social boundaries built on differences in race, class, and income will start to blur, right? Not necessarily, cautions Net researcher danah boyd.

Speaking at this week’s Personal Democracy Forum in New York, boyd said that even among people with access to the Net, long-held social divisions of race, class, and income are beginning to play out online, particularly among teens now choosing which social network they prefer, MySpace or Facebook. “Social media don’t eradicate social divisions,” says boyd, an expert in NextGen behaviors for Microsoft and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “[Social media are] making the old social divisions obvious in totally new ways.”

Consider the perception in the media that MySpace is losing its rivalry with Facebook, boyd says. The numbers tell a different story. ComScore data released two weeks ago show the two social networks running neck-in-neck with about 70 million unique users each, boyd said. So why the disconnect? boyd, who has spent the last four years traveling the United States and talking to teens about their use of social media, says it probably has something to do with how MySpace is being perceived by teens in society.

boyd said it used to be that most kids were on both MySpace and Facebook, but then, during the 2006-2007 school year, boyd started noticing a trend: teens were starting to decide whether to stay with MySpace or jump to Facebook. They were making that choice based on the social categories in which they placed themselves offline. “Increasingly,” says boyd,” (teens) were choosing the site that reflected who they saw as being ‘people like me’ and seeing the ‘other site’ as the place where the ‘other’ people go.”

Here’s one quote from a teen she interviewed, Anastasia, 17, from New York:

“My school is divided into the ‘honors kids,’ the ‘good not-so-honors kids,’ ‘wangstas,’ (boyd says “they pretend to be tough and black but when you live in a suburb in Westchester you can’t claim much ‘hood”), the ‘latinos/hispanics,’ (boyd says “they tend to band together even though they could fit into any other groups”) and the ‘emo kids’ (whose lives, boyd says, “are always filled with woe”). We were all in MySpace with our own little social networks but when Facebook opened its doors to high schoolers, guess who moved and guess who stayed behind?… The first two groups were the first to go and then the ‘wangstas’ split with half of them on Facebook and the rest on MySpace… I shifted with the rest of my school to Facebook and it became the place where the ‘honors kids’ got together and discussed how they were procrastinating over their next AP English essay.”

Teens also are making the choices based on perceived values, tastes, and cultural perceptions, boyd said. Here’s an excerpt from boyd’s interview with Craig, 17, from California:

“The higher castes of high school moved to Facebook. It was more cultured, and less cheesy. The lower class usually were content to stick to MySpace. Any high school student who has a Facebook will tell you that MySpace users are more likely to be barely educated and obnoxious. Like Peet’s is more cultured than Starbucks, and Jazz is more cultured than bubblegum pop, and like Macs are more cultured than PC’s, Facebook is of a cooler caliber than MySpace.”

But here’s what boyd says should really “scare the hell out of us.” As teens choose one site over the other, she said, “it’s clear that it’s not just anyone” who leaves MySpace and goes to Facebook. “What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight,” boyd says.

“Whites were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. …Those who deserted MySpace did so by choice but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.”

And one more thing? “In looking through my data,” boyd says, “I found that teens who prefer Facebook are far more likely to be condescending towards those who use MySpace than vice versa… Teens who use MySpace may (consider) teen Facebook users as ‘stuck-ups’ or ‘goodie two-shoes’ or the ‘good kids.’ But they’re not nearly as harsh in their language as Facebook users are of those who use MySpace.” And only last month, boyd says, she was doing field work in Atlanta where she found a heavy usage of MySpace “among certain groups of youth. They knew of Facebook but had no interest in leaving MySpace to join Facebook.”

Bottom line, says boyd? “…When people are structurally divided, they do not share space with one another and they do not communicate with one another, which can and does breed intolerance.” Social network sites are not like email, where it doesn’t matter if you’re on Hotmail or Yahoo. When you choose MySpace or Facebook, boyd says, “you can’t send message to people on the other site. You can’t ‘friend’ people on the other site. There’s a cultural wall between users…and if there’s no way for people to communicate across the divide, you can never expect them to do so.”

“…If we don’t address this head on,” boyd told the Digerati in the PDF09 audience, “inequality will develop deeper roots that will further cement the divisions in our lives.”

For more on boyd’s survey work about teens and their use of social media, see her blog. Her research papers are listed at Another resource is Eszter Hargittai’s article, Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites.

—Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by

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