Status update functionality

“Status update” now appears as one of the dominant functionalities in a variety of the most popular social networking software. This functionality constitutes a key site for understanding software culture. As mundane as this functionality might seem, one of its important aspects in terms of communication media is that it acts as a conversation generator. In platforms geared towards many-to-many communication, everyone has now become equally “responsible” for starting the conversation. Communication no longer starts from a “How are you?” but rather starts from a collective void, a silence that needs to be broken, but whose annihilation becomes the task of anybody and everybody. The status update functionality presents the task of shouting into the void, into that empty space to which hopefully someone will respond. We have already become so accustomed to things called the newsfeed that a time in which everybody tells everybody what they are doing at any given moment seems perfectly normal. It is important to look beyond the ordinariness of the content communicated through the status update functionality and return to the fact that this is really a form of communication in the first place.

Status updates now go hand in hand with commenting. Communication in the status update age becomes the equation of the “eating the best falafel ever” update and the “cool, where is it at?” comment. Interestingly this has evolved gradually. The functionality of being able to tune into the “conversation” through a comments function is fairly new to the Facebook universe. Nevertheless this recent addition has had a great impact on the ways that communication takes place on the social networking site.

Whereas some have pointed out the phatic dimension of status updates, I think the ‘like’ functionality is the truly phatic dimension of the equation. The ‘like’ functionality should not be underestimated as it fulfils a very important role. It constitutes an easy way of saying I am with you on this, thereby affirming the utterance and expressing one’s presence and attention towards the other. Today, only a button has to be pressed in order to enter the conversation and maybe more importantly, to enter the conversation without having to continue it. It signals the most cost-effective way of maintaining the social network. The introduction of the ‘like’ functionality at a point in time where many people have been members of Facebook for a while and are steadily working on expanding their social networks can be seen as corresponding to an increased demand for the ability to effortless nurturing an ever-growing network of “friends”.