In working on being clear on what my thesis is going to be I recently posted an article about what was meant by social network sites. Much of this article was based on the work of dana boyd, and whilst useful, it really doesn’t serve the purpose and the direction of my thesis. Let me explain.
My thesis is going to focus on the battle for sovereignty between individuals and employers as evidenced by the extent to which an employer can control what an employer says or does on a social networking site. To make the definition of social network/ing too narrow I will remove sites such as YouTube, flickr, RSVP, and Youporn, along with blogs and wikis. All these sites utilise collaborative, social software, and all provide the user with the ability to publish.
It is the act of publishing the self that is at the heart of the battle for sovereignty. If the issue were merely one of lost productivity my thesis would best be addressed through a legal framework – it is well tested that companies can direct what activities are conducted on their corporate networks. However, the waters become very much murkier when we start addressing how far an organisation can go in directing the private activities of an employee.
These activities are only ever problematic when they become public; and it is the public nature of social networking that makes these issues so interesting for businesses. Really, therefore, any media which an employee might utilise to publish becomes relevant in this regard (and I think that’s a point that’s worth making in the thesis) but it’s the nature of self-publishing on the Internet – ubiquitous, public, permanent, replicable – that makes such technologies so fascinating for individuals and so concerning for employers.
Leading from this clarification I will say that it is “the-self publication” software that will be the focus of my thesis. That is to say, any software that allows an individual to publish any aspect of the self to an online audience. I’m confident this early definition is in some way problematic, but I think it’s a useful start. It includes the sites and software genres mentioned above, but it excludes print media and public demonstrations (although I’m sure the same “battle for sovereignty” thesis could be proposed).