Facebook or MySpace – the Aristocrats…

Interesting article by Danah Boyd on class divisions through Facebook and MySpace. Not totally surprising, though, that a platform like Facebook, which grew out of the ivy league space seems to cater more to the tastes of the university crowd than a more messy, anarchic network like MySpace, that grew bottom up out of the alternative music space, and seems to be the favorite of the ‘working class’ kids.

As choices by my peers do effect my desision making, even a slight preference for a certain network by my friends can have a dramatical impact on the overall affinity of the entire group:

“To see how freedom of choice could create such unequal distributions, consider a hypothetical population of a thousand people, each picking their 10 favorite blogs. One way to model such a system is simply to assume that each person has an equal chance of liking each blog. This distribution would be basically flat – most blogs will have the same number of people listing it as a favorite. A few blogs will be more popular than average and a few less, of course, but that will be statistical noise. The bulk of the blogs will be of average popularity, and the highs and lows will not be too far different from this average. In this model, neither the quality of the writing nor other people’s choices have any effect; there are no shared tastes, no preferred genres, no effects from marketing or recommendations from friends.

But people’s choices do affect one another. If we assume that any blog chosen by one user is more likely, by even a fractional amount, to be chosen by another user, the system changes dramatically. Alice, the first user, chooses her blogs unaffected by anyone else, but Bob has a slightly higher chance of liking Alice’s blogs than the others. When Bob is done, any blog that both he and Alice like has a higher chance of being picked by Carmen, and so on, with a small number of blogs becoming increasingly likely to be chosen in the future because they were chosen in the past.

Think of this positive feedback as a preference premium. The system assumes that later users come into an environment shaped by earlier users; the thousand-and-first user will not be selecting blogs at random, but will rather be affected, even if unconsciously, by the preference premiums built up in the system previously.” 

It’s therefore only natural that members of different sociodemographic groups making choices in dependence of the choices of their peers are a perfect example for power laws at play, resulting in the divide witnessed. Even a minor skew of the early adopters within each network towards a certain sociodemographic (which clearly existed between Facebook and MySpace from the get go) is therefore very likely to result in a permanent skew in the sociodemographic affiliation.

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