Equal Access, Facebook, MySpace, and Limited Resources

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Personal Democracy Forum conference. One of the best sessions was by danah boyd (she doesn’t capitalize her name), a researcher currently working for Microsoft. She basically whacked us over the head with the fact thatdespite similar numbers, the people on Facebook aren’t the same people on MySpace. And really relevant to gov’t use of these sites, those on FB are (or at least are perceived to be) better educated, wealthier, and more “elite’ile MySpace is for others.

Read danah’s paper and then join the conversation on her blog.

The upshot for those of us in gov’t? If we focus only on one site, we’re missing a whole lotta people. And if that site happens to be Facebook, we may be missing underserved groups entirely.

The challenge, as always, is covering everything with the same, limited resources.

But danah convinced me we have to try to be on both sites. So we’ll do our best.

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Emi Whittle

I have been on both MySpace and Facebook…. found a lot more inappropriate “trash” on MySpace, that lead me to stop going there…. But even though I’m “middle-aged” I found LOTS of folks my age and older, family-oriented, and was even able to find long lost relatives on Facebook… Until the MySpace crowd “grows up” a bit, it doesn’t seem very worthwhile if tough choices must be made. (IMHO) However, if the purpose of a listing is to reach a younger, more edgy clientelle, then MySpace might be the better investment! So, I don’t think we “have to be” on both sites – but rather think about the specific purpose to be broadcast, then choose what to do with those limited resources… 🙂

Joshua joseph

Jeff, thanks for pointing to danah’s good talk/essay, which I wouldn’t have found otherwise. If true, it’s a powerful observation that while there’s some overlap of users on the FB and MySpace sites, they tend to attract different social/economic groups. At one point in the essay she notes that it’s natural for people to connect with some groups more than others, but asks “can we accept when institutions and services only support a portion of the network?” Great question.

No doubt orgs have to manage their limited resources in any event. But a key takeaway from the essay is that if we don’t understand how the users of social sites differ, outreach efforts – particularly from government agencies – may not only fail to reach key groups but may unintentionally reinforce social inequalities and stereotypes. The talk is a bit academic in places but has a real nice set of practical implications and takeaways at the end. Thanks again, Jeff.

Jeffrey Levy

@Emi: I think you’re right that there are differences, and your experiences echo mine. But we as a gov’t agency have to connect with everyone, not just people like us.

@Joshua: Right on target, esp. your second paragraph: we have to understand each audience and tailor messages to them to the best of our abilities.

Nate Inglis Steinfeld

Jeff, enjoyed reading the article you posted. It is useful to remember that the internet has a limited audience, despite ‘all my friends’ being on Facebook or LinkedIn. This morning I tried to use the article to start a discussion of the internet on my school blog, (La Follette Weblog, laflog.wordpress.com). I hope it reminds us future government-types of the audiences/characteristics of website users.