Social networking services (also known as social networking sites, both abbreviated as SNSs) are classic web 2.0 tools which foster sharing and interaction. All major social networking platforms have app versions for mobile devices, allowing them to be integrated into mobile learning, particularly in the form of geosocial networking. As far back as 2013, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, the largest and best-known social networking service, stated that Facebook had become a mobile company; more users now access it through the Facebook app on mobile devices than through a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer. This reflects the increasing migration of web 2.0 services into the mobile space.
Social networking services represent a fundamental shift away from the content-oriented web (where webpages were usually about topics) to the person-oriented web (where webpages are about people). They are thus the model for PLNs, PLEs and e-portfolios. For a light-hearted and clear explanation of social networking, see the CommonCraft video Social Networking. Social networking services essentially provide platforms where users can typically:
- set up a personal profile page where they can post status updates in the form of text, images, audio and/or video files
- keep up with their friends’ and contacts’ status updates through a newsfeed
- communicate with their friends and contacts through a variety of interactive channels
- assemble and display their interests in the form of links to pages or groups
- set up their own public or private pages or groups
- use third-party applications, such as gaming apps
With some 2.3 billion monthly active users as of late 2018, Facebook has come to absolutely dominate the field of social networking internationally. Most previously popular social networking services have either closed or seen a dramatic decline in their user base: these include Bebo, Friendster, Google+, MySpace (which has reinvented itself as a specialised music platform), and Orkut, along with the Korean Cyworld (싸이월드), the Japanese Mixi (ミクシィ), and the Russian VK (ВКонтакте). The only real competition to Facebook is found in China, where Facebook is blocked, and where local services like Renren (人人网) and Qzone (QQ空间) have large user numbers, with Weixin (微信), known as WeChat internationally, having become especially popular, and offering a Moments feature that constitutes a social feed. One very successful international service with a more specific professional networking focus is LinkedIn.
In contexts where an institutional LMS is unavailable, a Facebook page or group may sometimes be used as a kind of mini-LMS, with class members meeting in a central space but without the need for individuals to friend each other directly on the service. It is possible for students to use either their own existing profile pages, or separately created pages or groups, as the basis for PLEs or even e-portfolios, where they may display examples of work; present links to work on other sites; gather personal connections; and include links to social or educational networks. It is also possible to use the interactive channels on class pages or in class groups, or even on individual profile pages, as a way for students to collaborate with each other on group projects outside of class time; this might also be done via Facebook’s messaging app, Messenger. For guidelines on how to use Facebook in education, see The Edublogger’s The Why and How of Using Facebook for Educators, or Facebook’s own Facebook Education page.
In many Western countries, in particular, ministries of education, educational departments and institutions often prefer not to use Facebook for education, in part because of concerns over inappropriate social contact between teachers and students, and in part because of concerns over privacy, surveillance and commercialisation. In such contexts, institutional LMSs may well be available as an alternative. There are also very popular services which bear some similarity to Facebook in terms of functionality, but are actually set up as LMSs where educators have administrative control: two of the best-known are Edmodo (see icon below) and Schoology. Another service, Ning, was formerly very popular with educators until the discontinuation of its free educational service in 2010.
Many educators consider it important to offer students guidelines on how to protect themselves on social media, especially social networking services, focusing on issues around privacy and surveillance, reputation, and commercialisation; for guidance on these and related issues, see the digital safety page of this website. Tools such as Fakebook and the Google Docs template Historical Facebook Lesson can be used to help students create Facebook-like profiles which are not connected in any way to Facebook itself; teachers might ask students to create fake profiles for fictional or historical characters as a way of encouraging them to think about digital identity management and digital safety. It should be noted that the minimum age for users of Facebook, like most major social media services, is 13, due to the requirements of the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). For some well-known critiques of social networking, you might like to check out the work of danah boyd (who writes her name in lower case) on collapsed contexts, Linda Stone on continuous partial attention, and Alice Marwick on self-entrepreneurship and self-marketing. It is also worth taking a look at danah boyd’s comprehensive overview of teenagers’ use of social media in her freely downloadable 2014 book, It’s Complicated.
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