A Model of How Collegiate Online Social Networks Fit into Internet Communication (Part 1)

(Writer's note: I would like to apologize for the next series of posts, as they are going to deal with my dissertation and may be slightly technical. I'll mark this post as dissertation in the category section. Thanks in advance.)

The development of a profile on an online social network begins with simple access to the technology, both hardware and software. This could be examined as a digital divide issue (Van Dijk) or even an issue of the portability of new communication technology or it could be discussed in terms of the democratization of the network. This access leds to the ability of the individual to add content through the network by referring to outside sources. The individual has the ability to create their own content to add to the robustness of the network. Both of these points (access to technology & the ability to add content) forms the basis of a multimedia literacy for the individual.

One way that a user of an online social network can find value in the network is through the perceived interactions conducted online and the perceived connection point that the environment of the online social network provides. It is fair to make the statement that users of most online social networks use the service to keep updated on what their friends are doing, find where people went after they graduated high school and discuss plans for the future. These interactions occur within the friendly confines of the graphic user interface and the overall framework of the social network. It is through these gated gardens of the network that guideposts appear to point users to a "familiar" world that the user may or may not recognize. Pictures and videos that appear on the network and the textual clues present in posts creates an image for the user to construct and/or analyze. It is by the cultural power of these online artifacts that users have the capability to take those connections from the online social network and place them in the real world environment. The perceived value of the network and the ability to bridge online/offline relationships represents a basic version of a social network theory.

The brick and mortar structure of the university exists, in one role, as the traditional mechanism of socialization to incoming freshmen. It is through the orientation process that individuals educate themselves and prepare them for the academic world. With the introduction of services like Facebook, the role of orientation is enhanced by students from the university assisting those incoming freshman to the environment of the university. This discussion of the university forces all of the stakeholders to examine the university through a critical lens. The university can be judged and analyzed based on a number of criteria giving the student an basic understanding of how good, or bad, is the college. The Internet plays the great equalizer to all information, public relations and spin.