danah boyd profile in Financial Times

There’s a great write-up of danah boyd in Financial Times, which labels her the high priestess of internet friendship. I thought they did a great job, with the exception of not respecting her preference of not capitalizing her name.

In addition to profiling danah, the article also chronicles the development of Friendster and MySpace, and others, as well as some of danah’s insights on social networking sites.

For one thing, danah found that while these sites have created a few celebrities of their own,

…apart from a few intense self-promoters, most people, Boyd found, were using the sites to present themselves to a small group of friends and get their recognition and feedback. The sites are an opportunity to define in public who they are. By providing an audience, and the tools to interact with that audience, the social networks are satisfying that need. Boyd calls this behaviour “identity production” and, employing a favourite phrase of hers, says that young people are trying to “write themselves into being”.

The article goes on to talk about social content sharing, business-oriented social software, and sexual predators. The latter has been covered a lot in the news lately, but I agree with danah:

“The fears are so painfully overblown,” said Boyd. “Is there porn on MySpace? Of course. And bullying, sexual teasing and harassment are rampant among teenagers. It is how you learn to make meaning, cultural roles, norms. These kids need to explore their life among strangers. Teach them how to negotiate this new world. They need these public spaces now that other public spaces are closed to them. They need a place that is theirs. We should not always be chasing them and stopping them from growing up.”

There’s more on the tension of commercialization, as well as answers to the questions, “What are social networks?” and “Do the sites make money?”

Even though it’s ostensibly just a profile of danah, all in all this is probably the best article I’ve seen on the topic of social networking in a mainstream publication.