Online social networking as an academic discipline

December 16th, 2007

Today’s Washington Post has a story, About Facebook! Forward March!, on the many academic researchers who are studying blogs, social networking applications and all forms of social media.

“The race is on — to an extremely obscure wing of the ivory tower. Who will own the study of the social networking sites? Is it computer science or behavioral science? Is it neuropsychology or artificial intelligence? PhDs around the country are trying to figure out, in their esoteric and socially awkward way, how to get in while the getting’s good.”

The story focuses on Dana Boyd as an example of a young researcher who has achieved recognition that is quite remarkable for someone still in graduate school, largely because she was among the first to do good work on a hot new area.

While the article is interesting, it uses the academic politics frame, as in the famous “Academic politics is so bitter because the stakes are so low” bon mot.

“The culture of academia is like a land rush: professors poised around the edges of each new intellectual territory, waving flags emblazoned with theoretical frameworks, making frenzied dashes to stake claim on new topics, ready to shoot trespassers.”

The result, I think, will leave most readers with the impression that studying social media is faddish, self indulgent and without practical application.