Assistant Professor of Management Jordi Comas discusses social media.

Jordi ComasQ: Have online communities affected the way people interact offline?

A: There’s a lot of debate about whether or not social media are making people more alienated or isolated. You hear the concern that we’re losing the good part of social cohesion. I tend to be less pessimistic. That fundamental urge to connect with others is taking on new forms, and you see these new forms in social media.

Q: Is there a difference between “social media” and “social networking sites?”

A: The term “social media” works better because it encompasses a lot of other things like Wikipedia and other collaborative knowledge creation. Social media lower the start-up cost for community. The value that people find in these social media is that they provide an extension of what they were already doing.

Q: What are the limitations of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn?

A: A lot of social networking sites don’t do a very good job of acknowledging various types and strengths of relationships, so, for instance, “friends” become meaningless. What people really want are social networking sites that better reflect how we really network. It’s not so much that our behavior is going to be changed by the technology, but that the technology is going to have to re-adapt to our needs if it’s going to continue to be valuable.

Q: Has the preponderance of social networking sites reached a tipping point?

A: The tipping point has come and gone. The marketplace has become saturated in terms of creating new online networks, and it’s difficult to get people to switch sites. Let’s say I want to switch networks: I don’t know if I can get all of the people to come with me if I make a lateral move. This is what we call “network lock-in.” Facebook may not be the optimal platform for all people, but the way that it grew through clusters of people, it achieved a network lock-in. Plus, for new competitors, they face the problem of asking users to create multiple profiles which can be mental chore and time suck. It takes a lot of time for people to recreate their profiles. I’m not the most intense kind of user, and even I have something like 18 profiles in various social media.