August 10, 2007

New Research From JCMC

A new issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication was recently published online, with articles on topics ranging from Facebook to online fantasy sports. There is also a special section on blogging.

The articles in this journal seem timely in light of recent news headlines. With the buzz over the recent additions to (and $6 billion price tag on) Facebook, it makes sense that researchers are interested in investigating the effects of this social networking site on its members. One study from researchers at Michigan State University found an association between use of Facebook and three types of social capital: bonding social capital, bridging social capital, and maintained social capital.

Social capital refers to the resources and advantages one gets through their personal relationships and social networks (here is the Wikipedia entry on social capital). Social capital is generally considered beneficial not only to an individual’s professional life and psychological well-being but also to society as a whole. So, if Facebook use is associated with more social capital, and social capital is beneficial, why have many companies recently restricted Facebook access by their employees at work? While companies may be worried that their employees lower their productivity by spending time on Facebook during work hours, employees may simply turn to other outlets such as chat and/or online games to “waste” time. Furthermore, Facebook’s growing adult user population and its ability to connect to others by a company group or network makes it a viable professional networking tool that companies might want to encourage rather than restrict.

Another JCMC study from researchers at the University of Texas and Rutgers University looked anonymity and self-disclosure on blogs. The study found that increased visual anonymity on blogs (ie. no photo posted) is not necessarily related to more self-disclosure. In regards to discursive anonymity (ie. omitting one’s name, address, etc.), “bloggers whose target audience does not include people they know offline report a higher degree of anonymity than those whose audience does.”

These findings expand on previous findings from Pew’s 2006 Bloggers report which found that more than half (55%) of bloggers blog under a pseudonym while 46% blog under their own name. The split between those who want their identities to be known and those who do not reflects the diversity of the blogging community, a diversity which may create problems when bloggers try to organize into a labor union, as some are currently considering. Another division in the blogging community lies between those who view themselves as professionals and those who blog as a hobby. It will be interesting to see how bloggers will overcome these divisions to unify for common goals and rights (or not!)