Friendship changes, but 'friending' stays the same across cultures

Following in Judith Donath and dana boyd’s researches on online friendship and drawing on social network analysis of tie formation, this Hui-Jung Chang article sets up to detect cross-cultural variations in ‘friending’ between a US-based service (Myspace) and a Taiwan one (Wretch).
Hui-Jung Chang (2010). Social networking friendships: A cross-cultural comparison of network structure between MySpace and Wretch Journal of Cultural Science, 3 (2).

Understandably, Taiwanese and US cultures have different approaches to friendship. The author characterizes Taiwan as a more collectivistic culture where explicit messages and content exchange are less important that  the context (all the information either coded in the physical setting or internalized in the person) for establishing who’s your friend. US, on the other side, is defined as a “low-context”, individualistic culture [note: pictures are just random. Neither peace sign nor thumbs up in photos appear to bear any significant effect on friendship formation]. Consequently, Hui-Jung Chang formulates the hypothesis that Taiwanese offline friends networks are larger and denser. Does the same apply to online networks?

To answer this question, Hui-Jung Chang sposts six ‘seed’ individuals in each network , then crawls his way to 2 degrees out in their network. He thus obtains a sizeable sample of 1,256 Myspace users and 1,747 Wretch users, then starts measuring three indicators (size, density, and heterogeneity).

What do these indicators tell us about the network structure of both websites?  Results indicate that Taiwanese users do not have significantly larger and denser friendship networks than US ones. And no differences were observed in same-sex and cross-sex friendships either. So, dispite the cultural differences in friedship structures, online friending appear to be displaying the same features in both countries.

This makes for a compelling argument that friending is a social relation in its own right, specific to online networking services, and – according to the author – one where the explicit, performative dimension of self- and other-oriented behaviour is dominant:

“The results indicated that Wretch, an SNS in a high-context culture, did not have larger and denser networks than MySpace, an SNS in a low-context culture. One plausible explanation is that the low/high context framework no longer applies to the cultural distinctions between Taiwan and USA, especially for SNSs. With multiple cues of texts, photos, animations, video, and audio displayed in SNSs, participants try to make the best use of the SNSs environment to draw the public’s attention (Lu, 2008; Woyke, 2006). It seems that all information is transmitted in a direct and explicit way via the use of profiles, photos, messages, and other decorations within each participant’s physical space on the social network sites. When SNS participants provide context and process information, they probably just try to make as many friends as possible, regardless of cultural background. Thus, the results of the current study seem to suggest that a uniform culture has been developed for making friends in SNSs.”

[Hui-Jung Chang (2010) Social networking friendships: A cross-cultural comparison]