Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ethnography Study of Facebook

Today it seems that everyone has a Facebook account. For many people, Facebook is just as an important communication tool as email or a cell phone. For others, Facebook is nothing more than a useless novelty. Because of this seemingly huge differences in Facebook’s importance for certain people, I wanted to look at how people use Facebook and how the amount that they use it affects the kinds of content they put on it. To do this, I decided to study two of my friends’ uses of Facebook. I picked one friend that uses Facebook a lot and checked it frequently, and picked another friend that barely used Facebook at all.

From studying each of their profiles, I found out how often each friend updated parts of their profile such as their status and profile picture, how often people wrote on their wall, and what types of content they posted on their own profile. Here’s what I found about each friend:

Sarah (Uses Facebook frequently):
                On the day that I did this study, Sarah had just updated her profile picture. She has over 60 profile pictures in her “Profile Pictures” album and seems to rotate them quite often. In most of the pictures she is either alone or with one other person. The majority of the pictures are just her smiling at the camera or laughing, nothing too crazy or wild. She doesn’t list any interests or likes in her “Info” section, but instead lists current employers and her college and high school. She also lists her religious views, hometown, current city, and her birthday as well as her relationship status. She seems to use her Facebook to communicate with people that she has not seen in a long time as most of her wall posts say something to the effect of “hey I haven’t seen you in forever” or “how are you?”. 
                In her interview with me, Sarah said that she uses Facebook at least once a day for a half hour or more. She doesn’t use it as a main form of communication, but instead only uses it if she has something to say to someone really quickly. She is completely opposed to doing anything professional or business –related on Facebook, but instead sees it only as a social tool. For more important things, such as making plans with someone she would use a phone or text. She said that she noticed that some of her friends use Facebook for more personal communication such as telling their boy/girlfriend that they miss him/her, which, according to her, is weird to see, but entertaining at the same time; it’s like spying but on a public forum.  
Sarah also said that in order to create her identity on Facebook, she lists her jobs, hometown, and pictures from her study abroad experience. She doesn’t list her interests or activities because she doesn’t want people to know that much about her. Also, she makes sure that no applications or quiz results get posted on her wall because she doesn’t want people to know how much time she actually spends on Facebook and sees these things as evidence as a lot of time spent playing around on the site. Overall, she said that she tries to make herself look professional as she just graduated from college and is trying to find a job. Finally, she said that she doesn’t really pay too much attention to what people post on her wall, possibly because she doesn’t think of it as that serious form of communication that it would need a response.

Ryan (Rarely uses Facebook):
   Ryan had less than 20 pictures in his “Profile Picture” album and seemed to change them infrequently. Most of his pictures were of him with at least one other person, sometimes 4 or 5 other people. In his “Info” section, he listed his hometown, current city, political views, family, and birthday. He also listed his current and previous employers as well as a few likes and interests. His wall consisted mostly of videos or pictures that other people had posted or friends asking him “how are you”-type questions. He very very rarely updates his status or posts anything on his own wall for others to see.
When asked, Ryan said he uses Facebook for about 10 minutes every week just to check the news feed and see what other people are up to. Sometimes when he’s bored, he’ll spend a little more time looking at other people’s videos or photos. He said that he does almost none of his communication through Facebook and only communicates with others on it if they communicate with him first. He feels that people who choose to post a lot on Facebook or do a lot of communicating through Facebook are only trying to draw attention to themselves and portray themselves in a certain way. He sometimes judges them for it and can’t understand why people would want to live their lives so publicly. Ryan said that he puts up pictures and job information and filled out his about me to create an identity. But he said that he doesn’t really use it enough to create much of an identity. Ryan also said that when he got a job a few months ago, he went through his Facebook and deleted a few pictures that he wouldn’t want his co-workers to see. He also put certain friends or family members on a “limited profile” so that they wouldn’t be able to see certain content.

Overall, I don’t think that my two friends’ uses of Facebook are all that different, even though they use it in different amounts. They both use it to see what people are up to, communicate in small amounts with others, and to entertain themselves when bored. In addition, they both try to create identities for themselves that portray them as deserving the job they have or want to get. One thing that I found interesting is that both removed content that they thought went against this professional agenda, but did not delete their Faceboook account altogether. They only posted content that was slightly removed from who they really are, such as their jobs and schools, and did not really post more personal things, almost as if they don’t want people to judge them before they get to know them personally. They both also used Facebook for entertainment although they both judged people who put a lot of entertaining content, such as very personal stories, communication, pictures, etc. on Facebook. One thing that could account for these similarities despite the differences in amount of use is that both of my friends are the same age and both have recently graduated from college. It might be interesting to study Facebook users of different ages to see if there is a more profound difference in the types of content posted and their reasons for posting such things.

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