Everyone belongs to one, two or more social networking sites.

At Canonical, we wondered “What does social networking mean to people?”

I set off to find out.  I went to people’s homes, sat with them at their computers, looked at the social networking sites they belong to, at their friends, and observed them using the sites.

People are on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the lot to be in touch with friends and family, to know what people they know are up to, to be available and make the mysteries and intricacies of their lives accessible to others.  Yes?

No.

I actually found that a minority of people are on social networking sites to frankly socialise.

Lots of people, for example, talked about social networking sites in terms of “looking into someone else’s house”.  These people tend to stay in the shadow of their doors and are very concerned about protecting their privacy.  They reveal very little about themselves – only enough so that someone who knows them would recognize them.  They willingly let their profiles linger and gather some dust.  They feel a slight sense of obligation to be present on social networking sites because they want to be sure they’re not excluded from their circle of friends or colleagues.  For them, these sites are a sure way of knowing what’s going on and having visibility, but with minimal effort or output on their part.  They don’t like it so much when friends and family try to engage them; for example, they’re not especially interested and sometimes even annoyed when friends share pictures of their kids.  They value one-on-one interaction.  When contacted through a social networking site by someone they’re interested in engaging with, they’re more likely to pursue the interaction through solid traditional means such as email or phone.  – I call this group “DOOR” because they just stand in the entryway, making sure they are not missing the fun but not allowing themselves to get drawn in either.

Other peoples see social networking sites as an opportunity to document and show a glossy version of their lives.  “I like looking at pictures of myself” says one participant.  These people like showing others what’s happening to them and how great their lives are.  Their profile, unlike the “DOOR”, is filled with accounts of specific things that happen to them, including photos that show them doing amazing things.  They show the best side of themselves, and they polish their contributions because, for them, so much of what they do is something to remember and show off.  They also tend to be competitive with their image.  They inspect other people’s profiles to get ideas, to set high standards for themselves.  Their presence online is very much for themselves, to look at themselves like in a “MIRROR”.

Then there are the people – a minority – who are true social networkers.  They go onto social networking sites as if they were entering a playground.  They are on the sites to be engaged in multiple ways: playing games, answering quiz, reading their tarot cards, looking at others’ relationship status and other information that holds gossip value.  But mostly they are waiting for someone to chat with.  Social networking for them is basic entertainment.  Their profile is not there to ‘present’ them. Instead, it’s an ever changing identity that they play with, shaping and reshaping it through social interactions, for pleasure and creativity.  They are ROOM people because they do inhabit the site much as they would an arcade.

Which are you:  Door, Mirror or Room?