Washington: The popularity of social networking websites like Facebook is based on the phenomenon of social searching where people are keen to get information about a person, group or event.
Facebook.com boasts of more than 350 million users worldwide. With so many people interacting with one another online daily, a Missouri University researcher was interested in the cognitive and emotional implications of social browsing versus social searching.
Kevin Wise, assistant professor of strategic communication at the university's School of Journalism, studied people's habits when they navigate Facebook.
Wise says previous studies on social networking sites involved merely surveying study participants. Wise conducted his study differently.
"Rather than asking people to report their uses of Facebook, we wanted to see them in action," Wise said. "We wanted to see if there is a way to categorise Facebook use, not based on what people say about it, but what they actually do when they are using it."
During the study, participants were seated at a computer and told to navigate Facebook for a determined amount of time. They could view anything they wished during that time, as long as they stayed on the Facebook website.
Using screen-capturing software, Wise was able to view every action that each participant made while on the site. The researchers attached sensors to various parts of the participants' bodies to measure potential emotional responses as they navigated Facebook.
Wise categorised participants' actions into two groups: social browsing and social searching.
He defines social browsing as navigating the site without a targeted goal in mind. Wise says people use social browsing when they survey the general landscape, such as their newsfeed or wall, without looking for specific information.
Wise defines social searching as searching the social networking site with the goal of finding certain information about a specific person, group or event.
Wise found that participants tended to spend much more time on social searching than social browsing. They seemed to enjoy it more as well.
"We found a more positive response from participants during social searching or when they had homed in on a particular target," Wise said, according to a university release.
His research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Communication Research and Media Psychology.
First Published: Saturday, April 24, 2010, 16:53