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Social networking plays an important role in forming the social interactions of individuals on the web. Most known social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are welcoming the increasing number of users and are changing to big virtual community spaces, where members interact with their friends and their acquaintances without any cultural or geographical boundaries. Such availability has shaped a large data sharing space on the Web which was never built before. These virtual communities are built on the features of Web 2.0 as platform. A platform for social which is a group of Web applications to provide a technological and ideological basis of Web 2.0 and allows the exchange and creation of user-generated content (Kaplan and Haenlein 2010). Web 2.0 is a platform where social media is based on. Social media can be in many forms such as social networks, blogs, weblogs, wikis and video sharing communities (Weber 2009). Weber (2009) also describes that search engines are included in definition of social web as reputation aggregators aimed to aggregate the websites with the best service and to put them in order of reputation.
Millions of people use social networking to connect, meet and share. Social networks are configuration of relationships and social ties between people in ways which they are connected through many other individuals in a range from casual friendships to family members (Adkins, Angela M. 2009). Thanks to the Internet, the geographical distance is not a limitation for social ties and Individuals are able to connect to each other and make social connections using specific design of social network platforms. These new virtual communities enable the people from everywhere to form a new kind of social friendship.
The growth of social networking was noticeably fast within a few years and has completely changed the landscape of Internet. In most of social networks, users easily join to open social networking because the network is useful for them or their peers. Each Individual can lose or refuse relationships when these connections are no more useful. However, recently, the users of social networks are tended to open friendship or through joining specific social groups and adding someone to their friends or connections. The enormous potentiality of social network sites in case of supporting the huge number of members and building the sub communities and small groups inside these networks, has engaged everyone to connect these networks and use this new medium. It is not exaggerating to say that almost all of the social units, organizations, professionals, students and other groups have noticed the power of social networking and the value that will be added to their activities while joining this phenomenon.
The popularity and the value of social networking are made by the large number of users joined to these networks and has motivated many organisations to utilize it effectively for their activities. Although, it is difficult to gather the real number of existing social network sites, on 2005 it is estimated that the World Wide Web hosts over 200 active social networking sites (Rainie and Horrigan 2005). Social network sites such as Myspace is one of the well-known social networking sites, hosting more than 95 million members, while Facebook on 2008 reported a growth rate of 116 per cent over a year (Nielsen 2008). This phenomenon attracted many companies to invest a lot of money to advertise on social network websites and use the information provided by its users to extend their business according to the customer's needs. Some other organisations benefit social networking to extend marketing and build loyalty among customers.
In the last century, the new internet applications enabled users around the world to join in larger and more developed social networks that replaced face-to-face basis friendship and social interactions. This big advancement in social networking sites has benefited the features of Web 2.0. First services provided by social networking sites are the possibility to connect to people and share. However, the recent popular social network sites such as Facebook have integrated other Web services such as e-mail, chat, entertainment applications and media sharing capabilities to their websites. Social networking is now broadly defined "a social structure made of individuals, groups and organizations that are correlated to each other by one or more kinds of interdependencies. Such interdependencies are in form of ideas, common values, friends, interests, etc." (Boyd and Ellison 2007)
The popularity of social networking is undeniable. The idea behind this popularity is that it is functioning on many levels of interaction among people, from the family members to the nation and also among the nations. The best part of social networking is that all of these websites provided an easy way to join and this helps to be more interesting for today's youth who are less patient to fill up long registration forms. After joining, they request for new friends and become members of the social networks, then they might know someone on their friends list as well and this is how the network becomes more and more popular. This popularity has brought the new opportunities both for users and webmasters. On the other hand, the emergence of social networking made the users neglect its consequences and disadvantages.
At the time of this research, one of the most known social network sites 'Facebook' has over 500 million users from all of the world (Facebook 2011), allowing the content sharing easily from all over the world and with other people from different location and different culture and is not surprising that academics and professionals started widely to discuss the use of social networking sites. The quick adoption of social networking among people and the free services provided by webmasters made it well known and the access to these web sites easy for everyone. The research might be lagging behind this rapid development but the author of this research has aimed to investigate the popularity of social networking between different people both through the primary research (Survey) and secondary research (literature study). Since this new phenomenon has neglected the consequences and disadvantages of social networking, the author also aimed at investigating and analysing such issues.
All in all, the research question of this study is formulated as following:
To investigate the popularity of social networking and to find out and analyse the advantages and disadvantages.
To define the concept of social networking and to find out why social networking has a big role today.
To conduct a survey as primary research to investigate the opinion, use and perception of the users of social networks.
To conduct a secondary research on existing literature within the area of social networking.
To find out how and where social networking is advantageous.
To detect the consequences of social networking and the disadvantages.
Scientific contribution and target groups
The study in this thesis is aimed to generate knowledge about the importance of social networking between different people and to describe how popular social networking is. An immediate target group for this research are the informatics researchers. The analysis and results of this study will be a basis for further research in the area of social networking as well as its positive and negative aspects. Furthermore, the research sheds some light on different aspects of social networks their relations, where social networking communities are considered another target group. The results also contribute to the users of social networks as well as the webmasters and achieve the target of successful knowledge creation. The analysis and result can form the decisions for future knowledge of social networking, which addresses researchers, members of social networks, professionals and platform makers for future consideration and further advancement within the research area.
1.6 Thesis Outline
The aim of this section is to provide a short overview of the chapters and to prepare the overall structure of the study and dissertation of this thesis.
The first chapter of thesis is the introduction which provides a background to the study and research problem. Additionally, in the introduction, the objectives of the research and the area of the research are defined.
The second chapter aimed at literature review revolving around the problem studied in this thesis. As the secondary research phase of this dissertation, the literature review sets out another phase of investigation based on what the author has studied as the primary research.
The methodology of the research used in this thesis is defined in the methodology chapter. This chapter argues in detail the chosen methods, approaches, strategies, data collection methods and description of the primary and secondary research.
Results and Analysis
In this chapter, the results and findings of the primary research (Survey) are presented and analyzed. The data collected from the questionnaire are shown in form of figures.
This chapter discusses the implications of the results presented in the previous chapter within. Afterward a section follows the evaluation method and the quality of the research and the result.
Ideas for further research
In this chapter, the study as a whole is discussed and the conclusions are included. An overall discussion of the implications of the result for the subject area is also presented.
The last section of the thesis presents the ideas emerged from this research as basis for future research.
The aim of this chapter is to examine the different research methods and clarifying the method undertaken in this thesis in order to specify the objectives of this research. This chapter addresses the methods used for collecting data, analyzing, introducing and evaluating the research results. Different alternatives for design, strategy, research approach, data collection methods, data analysis and in the end, the methods of handling the validity of the research are also presented.
2.1 Research Philosophy
Research philosophy is based on the evolution of knowledge and the nature of knowledge (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007). The importance of using a specific research philosophy is that it will support the research methodology and clarifies the ideas of the author's research. Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2007) introduce three types of research philosophies:
Epistemology: studies what makes an acceptable knowledge in that particular field of study.
Ontology: concerned about nature of social phenomena as entities.
Axiology: studies the value of judgments.
In this thesis, which is an information science field of study, the researcher presents his epistemological position. This decision is made according to the existing theory, while the difference between humans positivism and interpretivism position is considered. (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007) Furthermore, Epistemology philosophy studies the nature of knowledge and answers what is possible to know and how we can know. (Haglund, 1998)
2.2 Research Approach
As there are two different kinds of research approaches: inductive and deductive, following a deductive research is applicable when the theory of the research is tested by conducting research and the drawing the conclusions are possible through logical reasoning (Ghauri and Gronhaug 2005). An inductive research approach starts with collecting data as first step, then develops the theory as data analysis result. (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007)
The systematic process of establishing a general proposition on the basis of observation or particular facts.
The logical process of deriving a conclusion from a known premise or something known as true.
Types of Research Approach by Ghauri and Gronhaug (2005)
On the first view, this study is formed by both approaches. But the processes of both approaches are not completely exclusive (Ghauri and Gronhaug 2005). This helps the author to question the existing theories while presenting new knowledge based on the literature study and through primary research as a survey.
The inductive approach typically moves from certain observations to broaden theories. The researcher begins with specific measurements to identify regularities and patterns, then formulating hypotheses. This may end up with general conclusions and theories. On the contrary, the deductive approach works from general terms to specific. Researcher in a deductive approach begins with by examining theories then he/she narrows the theories down to more specific questions which are testable. The researcher mainly uses quantitative ways to generalize findings of research. (Saunders et al. 2009). In simple words, the difference between two approaches is that deductive approach tests the theory but the inductive approach builds the theory. In this thesis, the problem is based on the existing theories and the intention of this research is to create more knowledge in specific aspects of the study. For this purpose, a deductive approach is adopted in this thesis.
2.3 Research design
The research design expresses the structure of the research problem and the investigation part. (Kerlinger 1986). The research design is a general plan to address the research questions (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007). In fact, research design is a model for the data collection, measurement and analysis of data by helping the author in the allocation of limited resources by choosing the essential choices (Phillips 1971).
There are three types of research: casual, exploratory and descriptive. These research designs based on different circumstances, the nature of the problem and the audience written for could be more valuable than each other.
2.3.1 Explanatory - Casual Studies
Explanatory research design focuses on studying a situation or a problem to explain the relation among variables. (Saunders et al. 2009). Explanatory research aims to develop a theory precisely that is used to explain the phenomena precisely which is generalized from the study. It is often concerned with assessing the cause-effect relationships. The research in this thesis is initially based on the relationship between social networking and users, therefore the purpose is exploratory and descriptive not explanatory.
2.3.2 Exploratory Study
Exploratory studies present a useful method for analysing current situations, finding new ideas and development in a different context (Robson, 2002). When the problem is not clear or the area of investigation is new, exploratory research is valuable (Cooper and Schindler 2003) (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007).
The aim for an explorative study is to reach a better understanding or to investigate the feasibility of deeper research and to boost a method for further research. Explorative research design of study is the most important when stepping toward new horizons where always can create new knowledge in a specific research field (Babbie, 1995). The research questions and assumptions might be difficult to understand and unfamiliar to the researcher. So, more information is needed to explain the concept and framework of research to help the researcher understanding the problem. The exploratory research might be conducted through literature review, interviews and questionnaires, focus groups and case study (if applicable).
Also based on Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2007), three main methods for developing an exploratory research are commonly the literature search, interviewing "experts" in the matter and conduct interviews with focus groups. A key feature is the flexibility of this approach (Ghauri and Gronhaug 2005). Exploratory research is conducted at the initial phase of the recent study of the author to help gathering relevant information on the subject. If the research questions were not clear, this method of research enables the author to understand the situation and development in that particular area.
2.3.3 Descriptive Study
Descriptive research is another approach to the design of a study. The objective of a descriptive research is to present an accurate profile of people, situations or events and the treated problem must be clear before the research (Robson, 2002). Such research has been the main method of study, when the initial phase is completed by performing an exploratory research, the researcher identifies specific objectives and goals then further describes a method for conducting research.
In other words, descriptive research provides an accurate snapshot of the aspects of observed person, situations, events and environment. The researcher observes then explains what was observed. This type of research is useful when a problem is well structured. (Babbie 2004)
Using the two methods mentioned in (2.3.1 and 2.3.3), the author's approach to research of this thesis is clear and well-structured as "explanatory" and "descriptive".
2.4 Data Collection Methods
Two types of data collection are available to conduct a research. The difference between the two types of data collection is that primary data will be collected by the researcher according to the objectives of the research and based on which data is required for answering the questions of the study. (Ghauri and Gronhaug 2005). All of secondary data were primary data for another study. Both primary and secondary data yield quantitative or qualitative data. (Babbie 2004)
2.4.1 Qualitative versus Quantitative or Both?
Information systems have the basis in a different reference disciplines prospecting distinctly the theoretical research of important research problems to study and the methods to study them. (Mendelson et al. 1987)
Two major methods for research are quantitative and qualitative. Each of them is considered in different ways of collecting data and analysis. In a quantitative method, the data collection and data analysis is based on numerical data. On the contrary, the qualitative method focuses on data collection techniques and the analysis that generates non-numerical data. In fact, the problems of research and the research purpose assess which methodology is more useful (Saunders et al. 2009). In other words, quantitative method focuses on frequencies and numerical data rather than on experience or meaning. Quantitative methods (questionnaires, experiments and psychometric tests) prepare information which is reliable and fairly easy to analyse statistically. Quantitative methods are connected with the experimental and scientific approach and are criticised for the lack of an in-depth description (Robson 2002). Furthermore, qualitative methods are methods of data collection which are related to describing the meaning, rather than drawing the statistical conclusions. On the other hand, qualitative methods may risk the reliability they gain in terms of validity, providing in-depth and rich description. To be able to gain the core studies, collecting both types of data is an optimal method. (ibid)
In a quantitative method, the researcher needs to be able to develop proper hypothesis, have skills to test these hypothesises by proper statistical techniques and interpret these information into descriptive form. In contrast, in most qualitative research, no statistical calculation aimed to establish correlations. In a qualitative method, the variety of techniques such as interviews, observations, analysis of text and documentation or combining them to cover multiple purposes in the study is possible (Yin 2009).
"Qualitative research is empirical research where the data are not in the form of numbers" (Punch 1998)
"Qualitative implies direct concern with experience as is 'felt' or 'lived' or 'undergone'." (Sherman and Webb 1988)
"Quantitative research is based on empirical research and the collected data are in the form of numbers." (Punch 1998)
"'Quantitative' research, often taken to be the opposite idea, is indirect and abstracts and treats experiences as similar, adding or multiplying them together, or 'quantifying' them" (Sherman and Webb 1988)
Methods of Research by Punch (1998) and Shaerman and Webb (1988)
In the recent years, some discussions concerning the relative merits of qualitative and quantitative methods for research stressed on using a mixture of both methods as some researchers use each methods exclusively while others are interested to utilize a combination of both (Blaxter, Hughes and Tight 2001). The author of this thesis used a combination of both quantitative and qualitative methods to develop the research. This combination empowers the author to collect in-depth data, and measure general attributes of the users of social networking sites.
2.5 Research Strategy - The role of Empirical and Theoretical study
Research strategy defines the procedure of research which corresponds to the purpose of research and answers the research questions. The research objectives, research questions, amount of research time, extend of existing knowledge and other available resources and the researcher's philosophical foundation; guide the research strategy (Saunders et al. 2009). To clarify the research strategy the researcher should state the role of the empirical and theoretical study. The theoretical study in a research can be applied in many ways. As a sample, the theoretical material may affect the researcher by selecting data and it may also be applied for analysis. Also, the theory could emerge as result of the research (both from collected and analysed data). Several research procedures exist that can be used as empirical research strategies such as case study, survey and experiment.
2.5.1 Theoretical Study
Theoretical study or theoretical analysis refers to the study of written documents and analyze it (Repstad 1999). This research strategy is advantageous when different texts which are published by different authors within the certain research field are studied and to reach a stand point, the opinions of different studies are summarized.
The scientific textbooks often contain the results of recent researches and samples of published scientific practices preparing a basis for further research which will form the foundation of current research (Kuhn 1996). Theoretical study connects the previous and current research to provide a well-structured scientific contribution.
126.96.36.199 Text Analysis
188.8.131.52 Literature Sampling
Sampling method aims to determine the criteria to choose and study the specific literature in text analysis (Patton, 2002). Since the research in this thesis is aimed at popularity of social networks and these virtual communities are most popular in western countries, the selection of text and previous published research study are mostly from the papers of western countries.
184.108.40.206 Literature study Databases
To collect literature for the dissertation, different material in different databases were studied. Several rich databases as mentioned in the followings were essential for the author of this thesis to collect the necessary information for literature study. Among these, each database delivers information in specific format such as e-books, journals and papers.
"Science Direct born of an Elsevier tradition which is a scholarly communication and often followed a vision for the digital library of the future" It provides one of the world's most advanced web based systems for technical, scientific or medical information delivery (ScienceDirect 2009).
"Is a simple way to search the scholar literature. It provides the search across different disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, e-books, the theses, abstracts and articles, published by academicians, professionals, universities and scholarly organizations. Google Scholar provides the relevant research from all of the world of research." (Google Scholar 2009)
IEEE Xplore (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) is a rich database founded in 1988 containing full-text databases and e-journals, conference proceeding and standards in technology and sciences specially is a proper database for literature study among the computer science and informatics texts.
CiteSeerx Is a digital library and scientific literature and search engine that provides computer and information science articles. CiteSeerx helps to improve the writing of scientific literature and to help the improvements in usability, availability, cost, and timeliness in the scientific and scholarly knowledge access database. (CiteSeer 2011)
With the aim of knowledge, information and quality, the springer develops, manages and spreads knowledge in form of e-books and journals on the Internet. More than 150 Nobel Prize winners have published their articles, books and dissertations on Springer. Through the Springer, the information technology publications are most known. (Springer 2011)
SamSök is a comprehensive search portal which enables the researches in Swedish universities to access library e-books, catalogues, e-journals and other materials needed for research and study. Samsök provides overall searches in many databases simultaneously.
The dissertation has benefitted from all of the mentioned databases to study the recent research within the area of this thesis and for me as the author, it is the most important to connect the previous established knowledge, results and examples to my study to demonstrate successful knowledge creation in Social Networks. Within the area of my research, many textual sources exist, out of them it was impossible to include every single detail that is written within the area of research. Therefore, It is important for me to sample the literature.
2.5.2 Empirical Study
In both social and natural sciences, experiment is used in explanatory and exploratory research to answer "Why" and "How" questions. The research will be conducted in two groups and each group members is similar basically in almost all aspects. The researcher uses one group as control group and the other one as experimental group. Dependent variables are measured in both groups and the results are compared. Then the researcher puts some manipulations only in experimental group. In the end, the dependent variables will be re-measured. This research strategy can be conducted in both laboratory and field experiments or one of them. (Saunders et al. 2009)
220.127.116.11 Case Study
A case study is often conducted in explanatory and exploratory research which enables the researcher to find the answer of "What", "How" and "Why" questions. (ibid)
The case study may be decided to do as a proper strategy of research and can be conducted when the phenomena are complex and are mixed with the organizational structure of company. According to the research questions, the researcher in case study chooses to focus the study on only one or on multiple cases. Furthermore, in a case study, both qualitative and quantitative techniques can be used as data collection method. (Yin 2009)
The most common and well known strategy of research is to do a survey. A survey is mainly associated with deductive research approach and is followed in both descriptive and exploratory research.
"A survey is the method for collecting information applied by asking a set of pre formulated questions in predetermined order in a questionnaire form drawn to a sample of people to be representative of a defined population" (Hutton 1990). In a survey as a research strategy, questionnaires are not the only research strategies as structured interviews and observations can be used but the questionnaire remains the most common one.
Questionnaire is an ideal method as a research strategy which can be conducted better with standard questions and leaves room for different kind of interpretations. (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007). Questionnaire is a standard research strategy which enables the researcher to collect the opinions of a sample of large number of people with less effort. Questionnaires are answered individually as well as they may target a group of people. Additionally, the design and the content of questionnaire are so important as it can assess and change the rate of responses (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2007).
2.6 Data Analysis
Key steps for processing data for analysis are to code, classify or categorize data in form of theoretical concepts (Saunders et. al 2009). When analyzing the theoretical concepts, text analysis is done in form of qualitative data processing which means spending hours and hours of time to read and re-read the data files, creating and assigning codes. This is not different from data analysis and the coding means giving rise to insights as well as to the patterns of phenomena of the study (Babbie 2004). An important purpose of the analysis is to build a deeper meaning than the obvious and the research approach that is used in Ricoeur's hermeneutics. Hansson (1999) defines three phases in RicoeurÂ´s mimesis: as 1. pre-figuration, 2. configuration 3. Re-figuration. Pre figuration focuses on existing realities as structures, norms and values. The second step is reading the text with focus on presenting the norms and values of the real world. Re-figuration is a synthesis of the previous phases toward the meaningful basis of interpretation.
2.7 Research Evaluation
Evaluation method is an essential element of a research to evaluate the quality of research. The importance of validity is an ambition to raise the scientific value of the research. Ã-dman (2004) believes that a validity of an interpretation is achieved when it is valid for the studied phenomenon or gives a meaning to the phenomenon. The research evaluation for this thesis is mainly adopted in discussion part of the thesis.
2.7.1 Reliability versus Validity
Reliability determines which data methods emerge consistent findings, which similarities in observations would be made and how conclusions are come up by other researchers or how such a sense is made from raw data. On the other side, validity estimates which data collection method is accurately corresponding what was measured or intended to measure and the degree of which the researcher is measuring. (Saunders et al. 2009)
Description: C:\Documents and Settings\Ali\Desktop\Reliability vs. Validity.bmp
Reliability vs. Validity (Experiment-Resources.com)
The figure in previous page shows three possible scenarios of evaluation when determining validity and reliability. The first one from the left shows the situation when the target is achieved consistently but the results are not valid while the respondents values are wrongly measured. So the target is missed and the results are not valid. The second scenario happens when the results are randomly scattered around the target and in average the right answers exist for the group. But the results are not consistent which means the lack of reliability. The third scenario shows the consistent hit of the target which means the measurements are both reliable and consistent.
To increase the reliability of the research questions in this thesis, the author decided to design a questionnaire which targets the proper sample of responders and to have valid responses corresponding the objectives of the research, so the content of questionnaire is divided into three categories of questions:
General questions: which targets the attributes of the users of social networks.
Questions regarding the popularity of social network sites and users perspectives and interests
Questions which focus on the experiences of users while using social networks as being advantageous or disadvantageous.
2.8 Chapter review
In this chapter, the methodology used in this thesis is presented. This methodology is summarized as follows: The research design is exploratory and descriptive, the study approach is deductive and used data collection method is a combination of qualitative and quantitative method however the data analysis is qualitative data analysis. The author of the theses has given extreme importance to this study to be highly reliable and valid whereas the evaluation of this thesis is founded on the discussions of the analysis.
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