It appears that 2007 is the year of Facebook, at least if you are a college grad who finds him/herself in the top three income brackets.
comScore, Inc. released some data about the demographics and usage of Facebook. Business Week decided to delve into Facebook and MySpace usage following the June 24th publication of a controversial essay by U.C. Berkley researcher Danah Boyd about the class divisions that are appearing on the two most popular social networking sites.
Boyd’s essay, though not meant to be a truly academic piece, is based on months of observation and discussion. Boyd asserts that a demarcation line has emerged separating the demographic of Facebook and MySpace. Facebook users tend to be college-bound, in college, or graduates. Networks center around learning institutions and places of employment. This is partly the result of the exclusivity of Facebook in its earlier days when one needed to belong to an educational network to join. Since September 2006, Facebook has been open to all, but the educational scaffolding remains intrinsic to the organizational and participatory structures. Aesthetic critics have consistently lauded the polished look of Facebook and eschewed the garish Vegas style of MySpace. To contrast, MySpace was always intended to be an open and creative medium.
One critical distinction between MySpace and Facebook is how users present themselves. Facebook originally flourished in college communities (it was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, then an undergraduate at Harvard), and students needed a ".edu" e-mail address to join the site. As a result, users stuck more closely to their real identities, and their online behavior in terms of manners and expectations tended to mirror their offline behavior. Although Facebook is now open to anyone, that tradition still holds. "On Facebook, you really have to be who you are, so it’s more controlled and polite," says Jason Hirschhorn, president of Sling Media Entertainment Group, formerly head of digital media for MTV.
On MySpace, on the other hand, there is an understood degree of fantasy involved. Users reveal who they want to be, through their interests in music or movies, but people aren’t always who they say they are. Says Jeff Jarvis of popular media blog BuzzMachine.com: "Facebook brings elegant organization to real identities and communities people already have. MySpace is a gussied-up personal Web page, and it’s about new publishing forms and mediums." If Facebook users are displaying their real-world relationships, MySpace users are self-promoters, concerned with making new connections through exaggerated, even fictionalized, personas.
Based on this division, it appears fairly obvious why parents, teachers, and even the military, promote Facebook over MySpace. In fact, the military banned MySpace on its servers in May 2007.
I’ll admit that I helped to promote Facebook. I publish the link to my Facebook profile on my blog and wiki and make my students aware that I belonged to Facebook. I actively discouraged MySpace membership and used MySpace as an negative object lesson in appropriate online behavior.
What has been interesting to observe over the past ten months is how much more "stuff" is popping up on Facebook. From digital gifts – like the cuddly white seal today – to third-party applications such as My Questions, Biofeedback, Fortune Cookies, Where I’ve Been, etc. Facebook is becoming increasingly interactive and attractive to a younger clientele. Certainly, more high school students are popping up on Facebook. In fact, ask any college-bound freshman about their roommate for the fall. I’d bet that they’d answer much the same way my cousin did when I posed that question – Yeah, he’s pretty cool. We’re already friends on Facebook. How different from my freshman experience . . . maybe social orientations are a thing of the past.
Here is how the demographics and usage statistics break down for Facebook.
So, should people conclude that one’s preference for MySpace or Facebook means something about their character? While the statistics do seem to indicate that some will certainly read into your social networking memberships, I still maintain that it is what users choose to do with these tools that makes all the difference.
(P.S. – I’ll still recommend Facebook over MySpace to my students . . . )