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The Anthropology of social networking website is a directory dedicated to bringing together researchers, regardless of institution, with an interest in anthropological studies of social networking sites, and their impact on our knowledge and understanding of society, humankind, and social science theory.

Doing social network sites: the case of Cibervalle

Heike Mónika Greschke, heike.greschke@uni-bielefeld.de

Image of woman using computer

"Once upon a time there was [...] just one more electronic bulletin board, entered by many nicks in order to read, to argue, to maunder, to calm down, to forward poems, to learn tags, to joke, to write novels and tales, to teach sex education, in short… I wanted to be part of that group, I read them for about three months and started to imagine how each one of them would be in reality. At that time there was neither a photo album nor member profiles, and hardly anyone had proficient usage of html, and we knew even less how to upload photos. Writing to someone in particular seemed like a shot into the darkness, because you never knew whether and how he or she would answer. To imagine the smile, voice or face of your counterpart was utopia. Knowing his or her strengths and weaknesses you could not even dream of."  (Esther, Paraguay, Cibervalle-forum, my own translation).

A screen capture

The publicly accessible discussion forum www.cibervalle.com[1] presents a virtual meeting point for Paraguayans in nearly all parts of the world. Despite the initial anonymity of Cibervalle users to one another, to which Esther points in her above quoted post, over the years they have build a community based on solidarity and trust. The Forum was inititially nothing other than a functioning part of the interactive communication environment of a commercial Paraguayan web portal. The operating company set it up online and left it to its own devices. More or less accidentally, the as yet lifeless Forum was then discovered and occupied by the first Paraguayan Internet travellers.

Man standing infront of building

The development of computer-mediated communication was still in the fledgling stages and broadband technology was not yet available when they began to settle down in Cibervalle. The technological requisites were still insufficient for establishing personal relationships, as pointed out by Esther’s statement. She is one of the first settlers in Cibervalle, who became part of a mutual learning process between advancing technologies and their everyday appropriation. The members of Cibervalle have not only been involved in several technological renovations of the electronic bulletin board. They have rather actively been shaping the evolution of social network sites (SNS), as they creatively exploit the system’s features so as to play with new forms of socializing and community building.

View of street in town

The communities' social life relies on cross-media architecture which joins the WWW-based public site and more private mediated forms of communication (like e-mailing, instant messaging and mobile phone use) with co-presence based encounters, so as to turn the former online discussion forum into a pioneer of social network sites (Greschke 2011). Cibervalle, in other words, not only exemplifies, what Madianou and Miller (2011) define as „polymedia“, that is an „integrated environment, within which users exploit contrasts within media to manage their relationships“ (55). Moreover, drawing from this case, we may assume that the innovative features of SNS, which are currently a subject of a legal controversy between Yahoo and Facebook, have been emerging in parallel in many communities of practice inhabiting techno-social environments, such as Cibervalle.

Bibliography:

  • Greschke, Heike Mónika. 2011. Make yourself at home in www.cibervalle.com - meanings of proximity and togetherness in the era of 'broadband society'. In: Fortunati, Leopoldina, Raul Pertierra & Jane Vincent (eds). Migrations, Diaspora and Information Technology in Global Societies, Routledge.
  • Greschke, Heike Mónika. Is There a Home in Cyberspace? The Internet in Migrants' Everyday Life and the Emergence of Global Communities, Routledge (forthcoming).
  • Madianou, Mirca & Daniel Miller. 2011. New Media and Migration. Transnational Families and Polymedia, Routledge.

[1] The online-forum’s name and the nicknames of the users were changed as a means of preserving the participant’s identities.

Page last modified on 23 mar 12 11:34