Danah Boyd, a sociologist and researcher in the U.S. who specializes in youth culture and online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, has posted a draft version of a new paper she is writing on what might loosely be referred to as “class divisions” between the two popular social networking sites. Although she says that the differences between the two audiences are not strictly class-based, there appears to be a clear difference between teens who gravitate to one versus the other.
For the most part, Boyd says, the younger users on MySpace are what she calls “subaltern” — a term meaning subordinate, or lower in station — in the sense that they are outcasts in some way or another, either because they are involved in a social sub-group of some kind (i.e., they are gay, or goth) or they are a member of a racial or cultural group that is non-mainstream (i.e., Hispanic, Asian, etc.). As she puts it:
“The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college… they are primarily white, but not exclusively.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm.”
Boyd admits that some of these differences are likely a result of the ways in which Facebook and MySpace evolved. The latter started as a social network for music fans to share information about their favourite bands, whereas Facebook started as a social network that was restricted to university students and faculty — and therefore has had a collegiate type of appeal ever since.
The different approaches taken by MySpace and Facebook extend to design as well — MySpace is much more chaotic and colourful, while Facebook is more clean and austere — and therefore the ways that the two sites are perceived by their users is different too, Boyd says:
“Teens who use Facebook see MySpace as “gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens.
That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year.”
Boyd has a blog post with comments about the paper here, and some of the comments are well worth reading.
Nick Denton injects some of his patented Valleywag skepticism here. And Joey “Accordion Guy” deVilla was at a recent presentation at the Harvard Berkman Center on Internet and Society that Danah gave about her research, and he has an extremely comprehensive set of notes if you’re interested in more detail. And Danah has posted her own thoughts on the reaction her post has gotten.