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However, we wanted to ensure that we were studying young people who had enough experience with MySpace to illuminate its practices. Therefore, all students in the study had an Internet-connected computer at home and had been using MySpace regularly for at least a year.

To understand how participants used MySpace and the role it played in their lives, we triangulated multiple data sources including semistructured formal interviews, talk-aloud observations, and content analyses of participants' MySpace pages. First, we interviewed students in order to determine the characteristics of their social network site use and their beliefs and perceptions regarding the role MySpace played in their lives.

All interviews lasted 60 to 90 minutes and included a preinterview survey on demographic background and media use. All interviews were conducted in-person and audiotaped. The interview protocol was designed to elicit responses related to our research questions on role, interpersonal connections, and communicative uses of MySpace.

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Therefore, we posed questions related to three broad categories: 1 SNS conditions, routines, and purposes such as time spent on MySpace ; 2 interactivity and relationships; and 3 methods of communication and expression. The interview was also tailored for each individual, incorporating follow-up and probing questions as well as questions specific to the participant's background and interests.

Interviews included questions such as:. On a typical day, when you login to your MySpace what do you usually do there? How much time do you spend? Are these people you know, barely know, don't know but would like to? Please explain. Can you give me an example of some of the ways you get your ideas, interests or emotions across on these sites? Do you see any problems or difficulties with using MySpace?

Any benefits to using MySpace e. Second, students engaged in a think-aloud, also known as a talk-aloud or verbal protocol analysis, a technique that involves asking a study participant to report his or her thoughts related to performance of a task as it is unfolding Clark, In our adaptation of the talk-aloud procedure, we asked participants to talk aloud as they engaged in their MySpace site and audiotaped their responses as they explained their actions and choices; we simultaneously observed and wrote field notes about the things they were describing on the screen.

These intensive, detailed sessions lasted from 60 to 90 minutes. Think-aloud sessions were fully transcribed, including participants' comments and explanations. These, combined with our field notes, gave us insights about young people's uses of MySpace, what they do on a typical day there and the technical features that appealed to them. Third, to complement interview and talk-aloud data, we adapted Jones et al.

For instance, we documented the frequency and types of personal, identifying, and contact information they included e. We also examined their use of various technical features, such as their frequency of blog use if applicable and blog topics as well as the presence of various visual media e. We noted others' comments on their pages, including the number of comments, topics commented on, and number of friends in their network. We also noted the design, look, and functionality of their profile pages, including what communication features e.

Some of these analyses were simple counts e. This three-part approach to data collection and analysis distinguishes our study from those that rely on self-reports or observation data alone. Next, we report the common themes that emerged from our analysis of students' use of MySpace, organized into three sections with each section corresponding to one of our three research questions.

We use the following three categories to discuss these findings: perceived role of social network site, social learning, and communicative and creative practices, and their related subcategories. However, these are merely analytical conveniences; in practice, these categories and subcategories overlap as people perform things simultaneously e. Pseudonyms are used in place of actual names and supporting evidence from students' interviews, talk-alouds, and MySpace profiles is presented wherever possible.

Line numbers listed at the end of quotations correspond to line numbers in our transcripts where the quotation begins. Furthermore, each student emphasized their experience with MySpace somewhat differently. One group of family members shared a single site and used it to connect with mutual friends. Others emphasized its value as an academic resource, using it to ask peers for help with assignments, while some emphasized its entertainment value. However, among these students three themes emerged regarding the role this SNS played in their lives, each of which will be discussed below.

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MySpace served as a space for: 1 emotional support, 2 relational maintenance and 3 self-presentation. Often, such emotional venting involved students' positive or negative feelings related to school assignments:.

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If it was really exciting it [ sic ] would post about it. Students expressed their emotions in numerous ways. All students used the status and mood update feature on their main profile page to choose single word descriptors and emoticons to express themselves e. Kim, if you think that no one loves you, it not true. I love you tons. Students distinguished between the affordances of online versus offline communication for revealing emotions.

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They also noticed others were more at ease sharing emotions online. Many students felt the intense emotions displayed online seeded stronger relationships. Students' believed their social connections were actually stronger after prolonged MySpace membership. They felt MySpace encouraged openness and sharing, creating a space where they could learn more about the internal lives of close and extended contacts:. Like at school we wouldn't be, like we won't tell… really close or too personal about ourselves. For instance, seemingly shy students maintained a different sort of relationship with those in their MySpace network than they demonstrated offline, as Brandy explained:.

Students also saw MySpace as helping them strengthen family relationships. Many participants were from families new to the United States or had family members living far away. They viewed MySpace as an inexpensive means of staying connected. Others explained how, through MySpace, they had reconnected with classmates who had moved way.

Gerry, age 18, line For teens involved in part-time jobs, caretaking duties, or other responsibilities, the online social network keeps them participating in their social sphere when they are not physically present. Moreover, boundaries between the actual and virtual are blurred as social interactions offline are represented in the virtual world, and vice versa. Or, I don't even know you like that.

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What is up? These examples indicate that students saw themselves enriching and developing a complex array of relationships in their social network site—from close friendships or family relationships to those extended and maintained relationships that others have identified Ellison et al. MySpace functioned as a social lubricant Ellison, , smoothing paths to relationships by providing a low-cost way of broadcasting life events, feelings, values, and connections, and interacting with other users' information.

Students saw MySpace as providing a multimedia palette and the occasion for demonstrating various dimensions of their personality:. It [MS] gives people a platform to discuss themselves and share themselves. And a lot of times people feel like they can't… because people don't feel like the opportunity [to express themselves] is available in the real world… with social networks you can create the person you want to be. It just gives people ever more opportunity to be who they are… your interest in poetry, music, photographs; they might not have known otherwise Brandy, age 19, line We were surprised by the importance students assigned to representing themselves in visual media, as this is underexplored in the research literature surrounding social network sites Jones et al.

Participants explained how they used photographs, backgrounds, layout, and music to represent their mood, preferences and affiliations. Visual media found within others' profiles also provided the occasion for interaction e. Images were prominent on MySpace profiles. Participants described how digital photographs helped them portray who they are and with whom they affiliated. All but two students had uploaded an identifying image associated with their user name. This was either a self-portrait or photograph of the student with one other person.

All but one student maintained a public or semipublic online photo album. Their picture captions suggested a range of topics e. Photo-editing, tagging, and sharing capabilities within MySpace make it easy for students to visually represent themselves and their networks. She displayed over photographs in her online albums, second in size to only one student who displayed images. The majority displayed 50 to images. Throughout these albums we saw not only documentary evidence of major life events e.

All participants had a unique background that was not the default. Warm shades of green, brown, and red were also popular. Background graphics depicted romantic scenes, leaves, musical notes, hearts, urban life, and black-and-white flower images. Another explained how she manipulated her background to present an image of youthfulness and femininity:.

Sometimes when I feel kind of kiddish I will put on pastel looking backgrounds or if feel like serious than I put on black backgrounds but I must remain feminine, so what I have right now is a black background with pink flowers Katherine, age 18, line The majority of participants 8 out of 11 also incorporated music into their profile.

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With a few clicks, users can add songs to their playlist and make these private or public. Public songs show up on the profile page where others can listen to it, comment, and add it to their own playlist or click to learn more about the artist. Half of the profiles we examined displayed creative writing, usually within their blog, in the form of original verses, excerpts from published authors, or song lyrics. Blogs were noticeably text-based; no images or other visual media were embedded within blog entries.

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Also if you have a YouTube account you should subscribe to my channel so it looks popular! About a third of participants embedded videos they had produced or downloaded into their profiles. For instance, Andrea embedded a video of her dance performance on her profile. Gerry embedded a video clip he had downloaded of the Motorsport Pro Winner. Clicking on the video within Gerry's profile, the viewer watches the car race from two perspectives, as if sitting in the stadium and as if actually in the front seat with the driver.

In these ways, MySpace served as a rich platform for users to represent their multi-faceted selves.

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Data analysis also revealed that their social network site supported students' social learning in three important ways. MySpace provided: 1 validation and appreciation of creative work, 2 peer alumni support, and 3 school-task related support. Students used their MySpace pages to display photography, writing, background and layout designs, and videos; many also sought and received validation for their work.

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