Social Network Sites

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H, 5
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Page 39

Kelly Menzel

Agreement Description

One way that libraries can look at social networking is to see how the business world is beginning to utilize social networking, and how they wrangle with the issue of language levels, because businesses each have their own specialized L1 language, just as libraries do. However, they also have to be able to talk with other businesses and to people outside of their realm of business who are likely to have a different L1 language, just as libraries and librarians need to be able to communicate to other libraries with different “dialects” (especially internationally) and to members whose language capabilities range significantly.

From the business side of social networking comes a few NPR shows: Conan’s “Social Networking Grows Up” (Talk of the Nation) discussion of social networking sites between businesses and individuals in different business (Yelp, LinnkedIn) serves as a nice counterpoint to “When Is Social Networking Kosher in the Office?” (All Things Considered). Although both deal with how business language and communication styles are being enhanced by social networks, each discusses radically different uses of the sites and even, for that matter, radically different styles of social network sites. The twitterlike Yammer used by the businesses featured on All Things Considered illustrates an already-standing group using previously known language with people they already know in some context. In this case, the program, by its very nature, allows for use of LO language (when addressing those outside of your department) or sophisticated L1 language depending on how the users wish to utilize the tool. Essentially, each company that uses the Yammer can use its own specialized L1 language within the LO language of the tool to create a sophisticated in-company social/business network. The social networking tools mentioned in Talk of the Nation, in contrast, apply standard L1 language for businesses to connect new people, create conversations that likely otherwise wouldn’t occur due to lack of connections, and enhance those that would have taken place in a traditional setting (What does everyone candidly think about Person X as a worker? What are your skills?). The online forum actually encourages new connections to be formed and for members to discuss items candidly.

In both cases, the user’s experience can, to an extent, be customized. The Yammer users can decide who to ignore and even who they wish “follow” while being placed in/joining specific groups based around their company’s current organization structure (which I am sure creates real-life conversations and informs others about people’s proclivities), whereas the Yelp and LinkedIn users have relatively the same level of experience customization as Facebook users. They can decide to only search those people they already know, or they can find others based on experience, skills, and so on, to increase their known web of people on the site. What is interesting about the businessoriented tools is that they all have “tiers” of customization based on whether you pay for extra capabilities. A tiered style based on whether you pay for it may not be useful to librarians, but one based on how much you wish to share or a member/librarians’ level in the organization could be useful if a social network of libraries were to be set up. In the more public realm of Facebook, a customized L1 “tier” (group) could be created to allow librarians to talk to each other using their specialized language without flooding the member’s accounts with so much techno-jargon.

Olwen’s article about LibraryThing brings up a different idea worth looking at—that of deliberate use of language to achieve a certain effect. Here, it is the act of bringing people together through casual connections that is emphasized, rather than the specific connections the NPR shows seem to focus on. It also displays how language helps you learn and form connections more so than the other two. In contrast, Rolla’s article, “User Tags Versus Subject Headings: Can User-Supplied Data Improve Subject Access to Library Collections?,” provides a more scholarly look at LibraryThing and the differences in language use in the tags the site allows uses to add to titles. More than the other articles, it discusses the user’s ability to customize the site and add knowledge to it—in this case, through the use of tagging. Unlike Olwen, Rolla sees LibraryThing’s deliberate rejection of library “rules” as something that libraries should consider trying themselves or at least figuring out how to add member’s contributions to the system to help facilitate knowledge generation, conversations, and build wider networks of people searching for similar items. These two articles may have radically different views about the merits of tagging and the use of social network ideas/usage in a library setting, but both question how language use affects the users of the site. Also, both lead to the question of how a learning space can be created, which appeals to all members just as much as it does to librarians. L0 language is universal but may lack the specificity required, especially when searching for particular editions on LibraryThing. Also, the same “tag” can mean many different things to many people; even if typically recognized as L0, much vocabulary plays into individuals’ L1 languages, making a “standard” the ideal. But whose standard should be used to satisfy all users? Should a new L1 be created or an already existing one be put in place? The same questions apply to libraries using sites such as LibraryThing to add, show, and share information to other library professionals and the public, as well as to libraries considering adding such features to their own Web sites (see limitations of tagging section).

Kanuka and Anderson’s article provides the theory behind the concepts the other articles look at but never mention. Dated though it may be, it provides a different, more scholarly, look than the other articles on what forms relationships and where people go within and without their social networks for information. The tenets of their work are played out in the Talk of the Nation show, although there are several notable differences, including the willingness of people to seek help outside of their already-established, real-life social networks and how learning is different in the online sites versus a personal network. Kanuka speaks of people’s unwillingness to look outside of current networks, whereas the online social networks of today encourage such behavior to the point where it is almost the norm. Yet the same things are often at stake, and the person still puts him or herself “out there” when a question is asked or any information is shared. As is noted in Talk of the Nation, “You can build your own network of contacts through a social network in the way that you couldn’t with use in other traditional bulletin boards. You can amass a friends’ list. You can join groups within the network. You can share photos. It’s much more of a personal experience.” Within the traditional sphere of social networks, so much information was rarely given out even to those within the sphere, let alone to contacts outside of it.

Conversation Starters

1. How different are the actual conversations that occur on a business- based social networking site, a site for your business, or a purely social site for something that interests you? Is it merely the language level (or what L1 language you use) that differs or does the entire learning process change?

2. Does entering a site for, say, equestrian fans demand an L1 knowledge of the subject, or can anyone figure out what’s going on with a little time?


Anderson, T. (1998). Online social interchange, discord, and knowledge construction. Journal of Distance Education, 13(1), 57–74.

Annotation: This article is a bit older than would be preferred, and it doesn’t mention social networking sites as we know them today and instead focuses on an online forum. However, it does provide a good summary outline of the basic research behind how people learn in an online space. However, I do wonder whether it is too dated to be of use.

Block, M. (Host). (2008, November 24). When is social networking kosher in the office? All Things Considered. Washington, DC: National Public Radio.

Annotation: This brings up a new mode of communication at use in office situations. The offices have applied social networking forms of communication (specifically, Twitter) to the office situation as a way to cut down on e-mail. Interestingly, although it’s a very “unofficial” mode of communication, most of the posts given out are related to the office and in the L1 language of the office as well. A few posts still come in about what employees are eating, showing a lingering disconnect between tool and language (and perhaps workplace etiquette), but those are the exception.

Interoffice conversations are now sent out to everyone, rather than a select few, which may seem confusing, but it eliminates the problem of deciding who (and in what order) to send an item to people, along with reducing e-mail boxes (which was the point in the first place). The conversations are both larger and smaller. People can, and likely are, ignoring a good deal of the posts that come to them in this way, but every conversation posted is open to a much wider number of conversants than before. What was once strictly a two-person dialogue “Do you happen to know X?” becomes a much larger conversation that all employees can note. Even the log of messages becomes part of an internal dialogue for each person because they can see what their coworkers are up to. One of the interviewees, for example, mentioned that he can use the log to see what each of his employees is doing when, bringing what may not have been noticed before or just internally noted up front where he can examine it.

I found this interesting because of the application of social networking styles of communication to the business world and how easily most of the employees seemed to take to it. I also found the few irrelevant posts interesting because they were the now stereotypical posts about what someone was eating or what they were doing on their free time. I wish that the show had gone on to talk about how it changed the way the offices in question worked, beyond smaller e-mail in-boxes.

Conan, N. (Host). (2007, June 27). Social networking on the web grows up. Talk of the Nation. Washington, DC: National Public Radio.

Catherine Holahan, a staff writer for Business Week. Tom Watson, the publisher of

Annotation: The host and guests discuss social networking sites as allowing users to create their own spaces with larger ones, using their individualistic L1 languages. It goes into specified sites for certain interests, business-oriented sites, and the customization available in large sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. Knowledge is formed both online and offline in these sites, with people meeting people they “know” from the sites to continue conversations about their topic of choice, as well as to enhance knowledge about each other. People post items related to shared interests, sparking dialogue and informing others. Although, technically, most of the conversation is internal (Person Y reads Person X, Z, and B’s notes on an upcoming dressage competition on an equestrian site and then, with that information, questions whether he should go), there is a lot of dialogue created in bulletin boards, walls, etc…. One of the guests brings up the effect of this level of customization: “I think that one of the biggest differences between the old bulletin boards and the newer social networks is the fact that you can build your own network of contacts through a social network in the way that you couldn’t with use in other traditional bulletin boards. You can amass a friends’ list. You can join groups within the network. You can share photos. It’s much more of a personal experience.”

Here’s one anecdote I found particularly interesting:

MARCY: Well, I am the online publisher and editor-in-chief of a magazine called Root Magazine: Global, Dance, Culture, Where Humanity Comes Together in Movement. And our address is And I find my writers, my musicians and dancers through MySpace and TribeNet, online forums and chat rooms and…

CONAN: Wait. You find dancers on MySpace?

MARCY: I do. I find dancers online. There’s a huge network of dancers that talk about their trials and tribulations of the business, costumes… CONAN: But how do you audition a dancer online?

MARCY: Oh well, that’s very easy. A lot of dancers are uploading videos and specifically on their MySpace pages. So I can see what their troupe does, what they look like, solicit them for possible articles in magazine, find about their influences, their loves, their travels, everything. And I’ve got connections in Africa, Amsterdam, South America, you name it.


CONAN: And so this has changed the way you do your business.

MARCY: Exactly. It’s absolutely incredible and I find to talk this (unintelligible) as well. So I have to say that without social networking sites, I would be a little bit in the dark on research. And, you know, answers that I have regarding, you know, certain things that might be culturally sensitive, I can immediately go to these online forums and networking sites and ask these questions and get answers (unintelligible).

Marcy uses MySpace as a research center, finding out more about the dance troupe she hires through their sites than she would through a visit to the studio or a traditional interview. It is all information that the troupes readily give, but she feels as though she’s able to learn answers to “culturally sensitive” questions more easily through posting on their websites or forums than she would otherwise. I believe that she, as many others, feels more comfortable soliciting potentially uncomfortable information via these networks than through something as “personal” as a telephone call or e-mail. At the same time, however, she is interacting more personally with the troupes she looks at and may be able to gauge how to ask such a question in a more sensitive manner (or even find the question already answered for her).

Rolla, P. J. (2009). User tags versus subject headings: Can user-supplied data improve subject access to library collections? Library Resources & Technical Services, 53(3), 174–184.

Annotation: The differences between the controlled vocabularies of libraries and the very different (L0 and L1) languages of library members is discussed, as well as the implications for library catalogs. It provides a very nice review of recent library literature dealing with tagging and brings the user’s ability to customize and control information on social networking sites to the foreground.

Terris, O. (2009). A quizzical look at LibraryThing. Multimedia Information Technology, 35(3), 84–85.

Annotation: This article provides an interesting example of the deliberate use of L0 language in a social networking site. LibraryThing, used by many libraries and librarians, rejects L1 library language, and in fact some practices, to embrace a wider audience. At the same time, however, it uses the British Library’s bibliographical data and makes joyful use of library cataloging standards. What is most interesting to me is not that it chooses to reject such language and conventions, but that it states that it is doing so on purpose. Although the author is a cataloguer who finds the whole affair slightly sinful, LibraryThing’s choices are deliberate. They were created to aid the average user with creating his or her own collections, as well as to make the site more of a true social network than place with individual lists of books. I question whether, up to some point, LibraryThing’s refusal to “use the library’s rules,” as it were, actually harms rather than hurts it because it’s harder to search for specific editions or covers with their search terms.

Annotation: Yammer’s website. The About and Product sections reveal yammer to be much like Facebook and Twitter but applied in a single company rather than over multiple companies.