Microsoft Research has hired social network researcher danah boyd, probably the most high profile academic in the world focused on the emerging web and its social consequences.

Who is danah boyd? (She spells her own name with lower case letters.) You may have seen her when she hit the international spotlight for writing about the shift from MySpace to Facebook. She wrote that her research leads her to conclude that "The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other 'good' kids are now going to Facebook. ...MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, 'burnouts,' 'alternative kids,' 'art fags,' punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm."

That paper was very controversial and widely misunderstood. It also argued what many people may were thinking quietly, though often not within a context sympathetic with underprivileged youth.

None the less, that was only one of boyd's many writings on the subject of youth and social networking. Youth and social networking is a nexus point for one of the most significant cultural changes of our era and as the leading expert on the topic, boyd's work warrants the attention it gets. If Microsoft is going to be relevant to the next generation of computer users, who better to pay attention to than the leading expert on how the next generation is using social networks?

Boyd's new position will be at Microsoft Research's newest facility, in Boston, which was just opened this summer. You can read boyd's discussion of her new position in a blog post she wrote last night.

What Boyd Writes About

In addition to topics like socio-economic class and social networks, boyd also writes, for example, about early social networks like Friendster acting as "tools for scaling up social networks rooted in proximate social relations and--equally significantly--for representing this dynamic to the community in new ways."

Her recent work in general might best be described with these lines from Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life:

While particular systems may come and go, how youth engage through social network sites today provides long-lasting insights into identity formation, status negotiation, and peer-to-peer sociality...I argue that social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, exact copyability, and invisible audiences. These properties fundamentally alter social dynamics, complicating the ways in which people interact. I conclude by reflecting on the social developments that have prompted youth to seek out networked publics, and considering the changing role that publics have in young people's lives.

Boyd's Fascinating Gigs

Boyd is currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley and a Fellow at the Harvard University Law School Berkman Center for Internet and Society. She's also on the Board of Advisors of LiveJournal, along with Lawrence Lessig and Esther Dyson.

Previously boyd worked as a researcher at Yahoo! and did a year long internship at Google studying the ethnography of blogging at Blogger.

Now she'll join Microsoft Research New England in January. She says she'll be directing her own research, publishing frequently and doing pure, interdisciplinary science instead of focusing directly on the Microsoft bottom line. We hope that Microsoft can prioritize long term analysis and support more inspiring work by this trailblazing researcher.

Cartoon of boyd by Marc Scheff