Social Network Sites (SNS)

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Social network sites have in recent years, become very popular online destinations and, while these vastly active ranges of sites share many common attributes, they also have distinct features.

These could be as small as the design and layout of the site or as diverse as the particular communities that comprise their user-base.

A research conducted in 2007 by a communication studies and sociology professor at Northwestern University, Chicago, USA, shows that a person's choice of social networking sites - including Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, etc. often has much to do with their race, ethnicity and parent's education. Given  that distinct SNS features may attract different populations and encourage different types of activities, the study examined social networking sites in general and with respect to specific sites in order to gain a better understanding of how the use of such sites is spreading across various population segments and the social implications of their usage.

The research surveyed 1,060 freshmen from the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) USA. The publication U.S. News & World Report ranked UIC among the nation's top 10 universities in regard to student ethnic diversity in 2006.

The findings also suggest that online interaction may not be as democratic and diverse as previously assumed. White students tend more toward Facebook while Hispanic students prefer MySpace and that Asians are least likely to use MySpace, mostly preferring, instead to use Friendster and Xanga, services which have gained more popularity in Asian countries.

Students whose parents have a college degree are significantly more likely to use Facebook than those whose parents have some college experience but no degree. MySpace users are more likely to have parents with less than a high school education than those whose parents had some college experience.

Ironically, young adults living with their parents were considerably less likely to use Facebook than their more socially connected peers. This is actually inconsistent with the general idea that Web usage can potentially improve people's lives by removing physical constraints. "In this case, it is the already constrained students who miss out on the Web's potential benefit," says Eszter Hargittai, author of the study.

Additionally, the idea that social networking sites tend to influence people to interact more is debunked by findings in the study that, one the contrary, suggest that social networking sites actually may contribute to a two-tier social system if people who already are interacting less with others in real life are also interacting less online. "In a two-tier system, some college students cultivate lots of networks and social capital while others benefit considerably less from this important part of the college experience," she said.

Consistent with other research and popular belief, however, women, regardless of race and ethnicity, are more likely to be involved in one-on-one online communication than men.

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