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By Invitation Only: LiveJournal Users’ Conceptions of Access to their Personal Content.

One of the most pervasive topics of discussion surrounding the social web is the issue of the public availability of personal information. Beginning with webcam broadcasting, continuing into the height of the personal blog, and now in the age of Facebook and Twitter, there are constant tensions between the publicity and privacy of the information that social media users share. The social web is predicated on this information sharing, but the world at large is not yet comfortable with the new practices and norms surrounding this social setting.
In response to these tensions, social media sites have implemented a variety of tools which allow their members to control access to that personal information. One of the earliest sites to do so was the personal blogging and social networking site LiveJournal, which gives its users extremely fine-grained control over access to their content. Like most other social networking systems, LiveJournal defines user relationships in terms of “friendship” and membership in the “Friends List” (or FList). In addition to this, however, LiveJournal also allows members to create sub-lists of friends, most often called “filters”. Based on these categories, the LiveJournal user can control access to their posts; an individual post may be public, visible to only the authorʼs LiveJournal friends, visible to one or more filters, or private (visible only to the author). It must also be noted that both membership in the Friends List and filters as well as the access status of any given journal or post are dynamic; the LiveJournal member may add or remove members from the Friends List or filters at any time, or change the access status of any post at any time.
LiveJournal users leverage these access controls in a variety of ways and in so doing, treat access to their information as either inclusive or exclusive. On the surface, this seems patently obvious; how else would they think about access? Closer examination reveals that the differentiation of inclusive and exclusive access management also hints at the ways in which the think about their personal information more generally. Using the exact same set of technological tools, some users keep people out, blocking access to personal information; while others choose to share information with selected readers. The subtle variations in these approaches reveal fundamental differences in the ways that LiveJournal users think about their personal information and shape the ways in which they use the tools provided by social media systems.
This project is an examination of the ways in which LiveJournal users think about public and private and how that translates to using access tools in an inclusive or an exclusive manner. Using survey data, observation, and interviews, I will relate bloggersʼ ideas about publicity and privacy to their use of technological tools to control access to personal information and draw connections to broader social shifts in the meanings of public and private.
To be presented at Internet Research 11.0, October 2010.

The Little Dutch Boy Has Run Out of Fingers: Reconceptualizing the Public/Private Distinction in the Age of Information Technology.

The public/private distinction is one of the fundamental categories of modern social life. Historically, the two functioned as a dichotomous pair both theoretically and practically. During the height of the separation of public and private, “private” was code for the home, personal, and non-professional contexts; “public”, on the other hand, stood for the world outside the home and professional contexts. This dichotomous treatment of public and private informed many aspects of social life ranging from gender relations and the divisions of household labor to the development of suburbs as purely residential (private) areas geographically separate from the public sphere of work. Recently, however, this dichotomous vision of the public/private divide has become outdated. It no longer accurately describes the ways in which public and private operate in contemporary social life; where the two spheres were once separate, there is now significant overlap and interaction. This breakdown in the public and private divide has occurred at many levels and has a strong relationship to the development and ubiquity of information and communications technologies such as mobile telephones and the Internet. This paper describes the ways in which the public/private divide is changing and proposes a new way of theorizing the public/private distinction, as a continuum rather than as a dichotomy. This way of thinking about public and private reflects contemporary social life much more accurately than does the dichotomous conception.

Presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association, August 2010.

LiveJournal: Critical.  Learning from the Layoffs

The January 6, 2009 layoffs of a significant proportion of the United States staff of the blogging/social networking site LiveJournal represented a critical moment in the life of the service.  Many members of the LiveJournal community were certain that Sup, the Russian media company that owns the service, was going to shut it down.  In light of those fears, they cast about for alternatives to LiveJournal but very few were willing to consider Facebook as an alternative service, despite Faebook’s replication of may of LiveJournal’s features.  Based on the reactions of LiveJournal users, I examine why LiveJournal users are so loyal to the service, why they are unwilling to consider Facebook as an alternative, and what new social media outlets can learn from the LiveJournal community’s reactions to the crisis.

Presented at Internet Research 10.0, October 2009.

Space and Place: The New Playgrounds of 21st Century Life
with Mark Gammon

This paper examines the ways in which space and place are being redefined and renegotiated in relation to offline and online worlds. Drawing from research on social and mobile communication technologies and blogs, we examine the role of technology in changing conceptions of space and place and the implications for relationships and social interactions.  We engage with notions of space and place as they relate to the complex intersections of online and offline worlds/lives, and examine the ways in which individuals employ media and technology as they play with the subtleties of space and place.

Presented at Internet Research 8.0, October 2007.

Public and Private on LiveJournal
Presented at Internet Research 5.0, September 2004.

“ROFLMAO! :D”: (re)Embodiment of the Web-Based Chat Room.

Information and communication technologies have had an impact on ideas about the human body; the Internet in particular has opened up new possibilities for experimenting with embodiment. The web-based chat room is one site where this (re)embodiment takes place. Chat users announce and reassert the body’s presence in the virtual space, and chat services facilitate this process. In so doing, participants create a range of types of embodiment from representations of the physical self to wholly virtual bodies. This range of embodiments creates a tension for chat room participants because they cannot know which sort of embodiment is being pursued by other chatters. Additionally, these various forms of embodiment mean that Internet chatters perform embodiment quite self-consciously, in direct contrast to the way that the body is usually treated in offline interactions.

Comprehensive Examination in the area of Social Psychology.
Second place, Carl Couch Internet Research Award, 2003; presented at Internet Research 4.0, October 2003.

ASL Everyone!: Presentation and Maintenance of Gendered Identities in Web-Based Chat Rooms.

The Internet, especially real-time chat environments, offers a new site for the creation of gendered identities. I carried out participant observation in chat rooms on a server run by a major WWW portal. Based on grounded theory and keyword-in-context analysis, I found that participants in web-based chat rooms reinforce as well as challenge existing normative beliefs about gender. Gendered identity is in constant negotiation in the chat room, much as it is in face-to-face interaction.

Presented at Internet Research 4.0, October 2003.

Ford, Sarah Michele. 2003. “Are We To Be Forever Trapped Between the Two?: The Internet, Modernity, and Postmodernity in the Early 21st Century.” Social Thought and Research 25(1&2):85-110.

Social theory has traditionally argued that the modern and the postmodern are chronologically ordered (that is, the postmodern comes after the modern) and mutually exclusive. I find, however, that contemporary American society is full of elements of both the modern/industrial and the postmodern/postindustrial. The Internet serves as an example of one social site in which these two concepts are in constant contact and sometimes tension. Based on an examination of the relationship between the modern/industrial and the postmodern/postindustrial on the Internet, we can begin to determine whether or not the concepts of “modern” and “postmodern” accurately describe 21st century society.

Comprehensive Examination in the area of Social Theory.
Presented at the meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society, Spring 2003.

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