Social Network Sites: Indispensable or Optional Social Tools?
Keywords:social network sites, user studies
Much research has enumerated potential benefits of online social network sites. Given the pervasiveness of these sites and the numbers of people that use them daily, both research and media tend to make the assumption that social network sites have become indispensible to their users. Based on the analysis of qualitative data from users of social network sites in Russia and Kazakhstan, this paper considers under what conditions social network sites can become indispensable to their users and when these technologies remain on the periphery of life despite fulfilling useful functions. For some respondents, these sites had become indispensable tools as they were integrated into everyday routines of communicating with emotionally important and proximal contacts and were often used for coordination of offline activities. For others social network sites remained spaces where they occasionally visited with people who may have been important at some point in the past but who had little connection to the daily business of living. In these cases social network sites were seen as convenient spaces of lightweight connectivity, but by no means indispensable.