Social Networking Assignment

English 213: Social Networking Assignment

(Worth 15% of your grade; due on October 25)


Although the first “virtual communities” developed in the 1980s, so-called “social networking” websites have exploded in popularity over the past five years. Sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, and Tribe promote themselves as places where users can connect with old friends and establish new relationships online. But are users of social networking sites taking for granted the benefits of these sites without questioning the possible consequences of a life lived online? This assignment will ask you to explore some of the issues related to the creation, distribution, and consumption of social networking sites. For example:
  • How do users of social networking sites use images, audio, and video to create and maintain a virtual identity? What do these virtual identities reveal about the people behind them?
  • What features and/or benefits do social networking sites offer users to entice them to create and/or maintain accounts?
  • Do social networking sites encourage narcissism among their users? Or do these sites merely reflect the narcissistic tendencies of those who use the sites?
  • What are the social and legal ramifications of “overexposing” yourself online? Do users of social networking sites understand the risks involved in posting personal information on the web? Does a knowledge of these risks change users’ behavior?
  • If social networking sites are free (and most are), how do they make money? Do the sites inform users about their methods for generating a profit? Are the sites, in fact, profitable?

Completing the Assignment

Using a website called, you will create a new social networking site, either centered on a specific theme (e.g., a television show, a band, a political cause) or designed to mimic a “real life” social network (e.g., your dorm floor, your fraternity, your church). You will be responsible for creating the initial content of the website, designing the visual look of the site, and promoting the site to your target audience. Although this assignment isn’t designed to be a popularity contest, your success will be determined, in part, by how many people join your network over the course of the semester. Because creating and maintaining a social networking site can be quite time consuming, for the portion of the assignment you will be allowed to work in pairs, if you choose. (If you prefer to work alone, that’s fine, too.)

A note about privacy: I am very aware that some of you choose to limit your “online presence” out of concern for your privacy. For this reason, you may want to use a pseudonym and a “throwaway” email address for this assignment. If you choose this option, the only people who will know your identity are the other members of this class. If you use a pseudonym, please send me an email with the name and email address you’ve selected.

Based on your experience in creating and maintaining a social networking site, at the conclusion of the unit you will write a 4–5 page persuasive essay exploring one of the issues you believe Iowa State students should keep in mind as they participate in social networking sites. Your essay should draw upon the readings we will complete for class, as well as your own research into your topic. In addition, your essay should use the site you created as evidence of the point you’re making in your essay. You may want to include screenshots of your site or other social networking sites to strengthen your argument. If you have worked with one of your classmates on the portion of the assignment, each of you will write an individual paper on a unique topic.

Assignment Details

All of the sites created by members of the class will be accessible through the English 213 Ning site (, and all members of the class should be allowed to join your site during the course of this assignment. At the conclusion of the semester, you are free to restrict membership on your site, or to delete your site entirely. I will evaluate your site using the criteria described below.

When you are finished with the essay portion of the assignment, save your essay as “Full Name Social Networking.doc” (for instance, my file would be named “Quinn Warnick Social Networking.doc”) and upload it to the course website before class on October 25. In addition, please bring a printed copy of your essay to class that day. As always, if you have any questions about the specific parameters of this assignment, please contact me before the due date, either via email or during my office hours.

Evaluation Criteria

Your website will be evaluated based on how well it:
  • focuses on a specific theme or mirrors a real-life social network (pick one).
  • employs a unique visual layout and design (as opposed to a pre-designed template).
  • attracted its target audience to participate in the network.
Your essay will be evaluated based on how well it:
  • synthesizes information from the readings and your individual research.
  • follows a logical organizational pattern.
  • makes a sustained argument that is relevant to the audience in question (ISU students).
  • incorporates visual elements, both in your analysis and the design of your essay.
  • adheres to the conventions of standard written English (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.).