So here I am 15 pages into researching OSNs and already I run into a stumbling block. My initial thought was to concentrate on answering the question, what type of organization is an OSN? Fraser and Dutta, authors of the book, Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World, state firmly that, “networks are horizontal expressions of dynamic social power; organizations are vertical constructions that represent formal institutional power.” (10, Fraser). The important point I pulled out of this is that OSNs, as a form of network, are inherently not an organization. Ut-oh.
They go on to explain that there is a “troubling paradox” at the heart of the design of OSNs: “our personal selves—or ‘true’ identities—are usually banished from the organizations and institutions that formalize our relations with the world” (1, Fraser). There is a difference created between our personal selves and our institutional selves, where our ‘personal personalities’ may collide with institutional values. In other words, OSNs introduce another side of people into institutions that, for any number of reasons, is usually not well represented or shown.
The authors continue, stating that, “social networks are spontaneous, informal, horizontal, hierarchic, dynamic and shifting. Institutions, by contrast, are constructed, formal, vertical, hierarchic, static and rigid” (2, Fraser). Whereas social networks are horizontal in structure, institutions are vertically built, and when the two meet the OSN challenges the “core assumptions about social interactions, organizational behavior, corporate management and democratic governance” (2, Fraser).
What I take away from this is that OSNs, which are created to bring people together, may, at least in an institutional setting, complicate and mess up the entire interaction of communicating and socializing with others. A French author, they note in the book, even made the statement that “modern society was taking a giant leap backwards to the chaotic social organization associated with feudalism” with the creation of so many different OSNs (16, Fraser). Intuitions provide structure to our interactions and communication; OSNs decentralize it and create overlap.
But social power has always resided in networks and there are always networks in and between organizations. A network may be formed for any number of reasons, although Fraser and Dutta identify Identity, Status, and Power as the three most common reasons to network with others. By socially interacting and networking with others you can achieve otherwise unattainable goals.
So maybe I’m asking the wrong question. If an OSN is not an organization, how does it fit into an organization? Where does its power lie? Fraser and Dutta classify five types of OSNs: egocentric, community-based, opportunistic, passion-centric, and media-sharing. Some of these types may fit into certain organizations better than others. For instance, Facebook is a well-integrated part of college life, but it is band from use in many business corporations.
Somewhere along the line I intend to incorporate the experiences and actions of MyHometownLink into this discussion…I’ll get back to you all on how exactly that’ll happen…I’m open to suggestions.