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May 01, 2010, 2:30 PM

The Allure of the Hive: Social Networking and Social Change

Participants: Nicole Ellison, David Kirkpatrick, Dhiraj Murthy, Sean Parker, Andrew Rasiej

Facebook is more than a "social network." It is a parallel universe of relationships and social life, which for many of its 500 million users has become a field of action nearly as significant as their real-world interactions. The average American user spends more than six hours per month on Facebook, and increasingly uses it as a primary tool for communication. Facebook and other Internet social media occupy a larger and larger portion of the time people spend online, becoming massively potent forces of change whose impact we are only beginning to comprehend. How does the new world of digital "friendship" affect our social life in the real world? How are we ourselves changing as we increasingly inhabit yet another virtual universe? What does the growing penetration of Facebook and social media portend for the way life will be lived, and how will it affect how we organize ourselves, from family life to politics? One of the primary architects of Facebook joins experts on individual empowerment and Internet media to elucidate the impact of this looming presence in modern life.

Nicole Ellison is a professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at Michigan State University. She has published extensively on the social impacts of social network sites such as Facebook. Her co-authored article, "The Benefits of Facebook 'Friends'," uses a social capital framework to explore social capital outcomes of Facebook use by undergraduate students. She co-edited one of the first academic collections to focus on social network sites with Danah Boyd in 2007 and, as part of the collection, co-authored a well-received overview of social network sites. Her other research explores self-presentation in online dating contexts and the ways in which individuals use social network sites to receive social support and information from their social networks.

David Kirkpatrick (moderator) is the author of the definitive book on Facebook, The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World, to be published by Simon & Schuster in June 2010. He was for many years senior editor for internet and technology at Fortune magazine, which he joined in 1983. He specialized in the computer and technology industries, as well as in the impact of the Internet on business and society. Kirkpatrick created Fortune's Brainstorm brand, beginning with a 2001 conference in Aspen that ran for five years. With a group of former Fortune colleagues, he is currently organizing a conference and media company called Techonomy, focusing on the centrality of technology innovation for all spheres of human activity.

Dhiraj Murthy is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bowdoin College. He teaches a course on social media called "In the Facebook Age," a class where students navigate larger sociological themes surrounding the social, political, and economic implications of social networking sites. He has published on the use of social networking sites by subcultures and on digital research methods. His article, "Digital Ethnography: An Examination of the Use of New Technologies for Social Research" critically assesses the ways in which social researchers can conduct research on social networking sites, including Facebook. He is currently writing a full-length book focused on Twitter, titled Social Communication in the Twitter Age.

Sean Parker is an entrepreneur who has helped create new ways of spreading information online. His first major product was Napster, which he co-founded at age 19, and which influenced the way people think about and share music. Two years later, Parker co-founded Plaxo, pioneering viral technologies that allow users to easily update contact information and stay in touch with colleagues. He served as Plaxo's president until 2004, when he joined with Mark Zuckerberg to develop Facebook. Parker was Facebook's founding president, guiding the company's early growth and formulating strategies that helped it become the world's most popular social networking site. His latest company is Causes, which he co-founded in 2007, and which has become the largest online platform for grassroots activism and philanthropy, and the most popular non-game application on Facebook. In addition to founding and leading emerging companies directly, Parker is a managing partner at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that has backed companies including Facebook, SpaceX (the company NASA hired to resupply the International Space Station), Quantcast, and Mint.

Andrew Rasiej is the Founder of Personal Democracy Forum, an annual conference and website covering the intersection of politics and technology. He is also the co-founder of techPresident, a group blog that covered how the 2008 presidential candidates were using the web, and how content generated by voters affected the campaign. In the 2004 Presidential race he served as Chairman of the Howard Dean Technology Advisory Council, and in 2005 he ran a highly visible campaign for Public Advocate of New York City, running in the Democratic primary on a platform to bring low cost wireless Internet access to all New Yorkers. He writes a bi-weekly column for politico.com and appears as an expert on the Internet and politics on major media channels. He has served as an advisor to members of Congress and political candidates on the use of Information Technology for campaign and policy purposes since 1999.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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