Is there a rural MySpace?
Gilbert, E., Karahalios, K. and Sandvig, C. The Network in the Garden: An Empirical Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI 2008. Update: Best paper award winner.
History repeatedly demonstrates that rural communities have unique technological needs. Yet, we know little about how rural communities use modern technologies, so we lack knowledge on how to design for them. To address this gap, our empirical paper investigates behavioral differences between more than 3,000 rural and urban social media users. Using a dataset collected from a broadly popular social network site, we analyze users' profiles, 340,000 online friendships and 200,000 interpersonal messages. Using social capital theory, we predict differences between rural and urban users and find strong evidence supporting our hypotheses. Namely, rural people articulate far fewer friends online, and those friends live much closer to home. Our results also indicate that the groups have substantially different gender distributions and use privacy features differently. We conclude by discussing design implications drawn from our findings; most importantly, designers should reconsider the binary friend-or-not model to allow for incremental trust-building.
(Image courtesy the Illinois state highway system.)