The Struggle to Define Online Sociality (Part 1)

The Struggle to Define Online Sociality (Part 1)

By Ngozi Adighibe

In our previous blog posts, we analysed Van Dijck’s perspective on social media and the online culture it has created (see The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media). So, in the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the other chapters in her book; beginning with, the struggle to define online sociality.

Today’s reading began with a fascinating quote from Lucian Marin’s blog, which stated, “Before Twitter, Flickr was the only social network I needed.” I found this quote quite interesting; partly because I do not know many people that use or used Flickr and mostly because I have never used that platform. It’s intriguing that it was or is a social network platform that had such a significant impact on its user; so much so that “it was the only social network needed.”

Van Dijck (2013), in her last four chapters, discussed Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia and the ecosystem of connective media. She referred to Flickr as one of the best-known online photo-sharing site, found to foster a “network of small communities”. For a minute, I thought to myself how great it would be to be part of this online network because networking is essential. However, the knowledge that I have gained so far from this book made me hesitate.

Remember, one lesson learnt from our previous posts is the need for users to be cautious and deliberate in online environments, knowing that there is always more than meets the eye. Besides, this book has been able to establish that most of these platforms always start off with great user-based intentions and then along the line, change focus in pursuit of what the author calls, “connectivity,” which by the way only comes at the detriment of “connectedness.”

Personally, I would rather have “connectedness” than “connectivity,” and I’m almost sure that this would be the choice of most users of these platforms. Nevertheless, this “ecosystem of connectivity” cannot operate that way. There are users, and there are owners; just like there are wants and needs.

Flickr and the struggle to balance Users’ want versus Owners’ needs

The example of Flickr, which was bought over by Yahoo, reveals the struggle owners face while creating balance in the ecosystem. Flickr users WANTED the site to remain as it was – community-based, the same interface and with no form of commercialisation. But, Yahoo, who became the owner, NEEDED the site to yield profit, which the platform could not achieve if it maintained its status quo.

Notice that I used the word, ‘wanted’ to describe users’ desires versus the term, ‘needed’ in the case of Yahoo. This is because Flickr users do not really need the platform to survive, but, Flickr needs money to survive and thrive in this culture of connectivity. Therefore, in this case, one cannot blame Yahoo for trying to make ends meet.

On the other hand, running Flickr on the same rules that apply to Yahoo site was not the right business decision. There must always be some form of compromise in organisational management. The users were willing to follow the new rules of having to sign up on Yahoo to access Flickr and adjust to the new interfaces. Therefore, Yahoo should have soft-pedalled a bit on its rush towards transforming Flickr into a money-making venture.

After all, it is an ecosystem, in which players are interdependent; without users, there will be no owners, and without technology, there will be neither of the two. Thus, the need and struggle to maintain a balance between what users’ want and that which owners’ need.

Flickr is not as famous as other platforms because someone forgot the public relations rule that no part of the public of any organisation should be ignored. Yahoo (Flickr) sought to satisfy organisational needs and that of commercial users, and at the same time adapt to the new trend in online environments, but ignored the desires of the everyday users of the site. Therefore, it was not surprising when the popularity of Flickr dropped or when it had to be sold to another company (SmugMug, Inc.). So, the struggle continues…

As a consumer, I don’t consider Flickr a success, when compared to other social media platforms. However, according to Van Dijck (2013), when it has to do with online sociality, “Success and failure are not entirely in the eyes of the beholder.” So, don’t quote me!

Watch out for our next post, where we’ll be discussing the next platform, YouTube – the video-sharing site created as an “alternative” to watching television (Van Dijck, 2013).

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