This thesis explores UK Internet users’ experiences of creating and maintaining friendships on social networking sites and online communities, with a particular focus on how online friendships compare to and affect participants’ face-to-face social networks. There is a large body of literature regarding online friendship and the use of online social networks. However, significantly less research has been published which focuses on UK-based users or on ‘online-to-offline’ friendships: relationships which begin online and move offline, becoming incorporated into participants’ everyday social circles. This study contributes to the literature in these under-researched areas. The study used a mixed-methods research design: an online questionnaire provided data which facilitated the purposeful selection of participants for face-to-face interviews. Although both quantitative and qualitative methods were used for data collection and analysis, the emphasis of the research is qualitative. Much of the current research into online interaction and friendship has been limited by the use of quantitative methods (Amichai-Hamburger, Kingsbury & Schneider, 2013). The qualitative focus of this research resulted in rich and deep data about participants’ experiences of online friendship. The results show that a significant majority of participants had made new friends on the Internet, and that online communities such as LiveJournal are more likely to foster new friendships than social networking sites such as Facebook. It was clear that online friendships are evaluated and measured in the same way as ‘traditional’ friendships. The migration of online friends into offline, everyday social circles was widely reported, suggesting that it is a frequent occurrence among the wider user population. Additionally, the migration of offline friends into online social networks was described by a number of participants, illustrating the use of online social networks to maintain and sustain offline, everyday friendships.
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