Back in 2010, the tech scholar danah boyd (always spelt with lower case) saw how new, “networked” publics  were emerging through digital platforms. She found that the way a platform is built shapes the types of identities that are possible, helping create an “imagined collective”. 

I’ve been researching “Day in My Life” videos on TikTok to see how ideas of selfhood are impacted by digital technologies. As a result, I’ve written this 3 part blog series. Today’s post is number 2. Yesterday, I introduced the project (a study of Day in My Life TikTok) and talked about Erving Goffman’s theory of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. I shared Goffman’s concept of “front” and “backstage” and showed some examples of how these can be seen to merge in “Day in My Life” TikTok videos: short films which are simultaneously intimate yet performative.

Today, I look at boyd’s pioneering work with social networks and, in particular, how she introduced the concept of networked publics to describe the new social spaces emerging from the intersection of digital technologies and networked communications. I’ll explain why this work is relevant to “Day in My Life” TikTok.

Networked publics are the spaces that have been created where people gather, interact, and engage in various ways online. In these spaces, individuals easily connect with others regardless of geographical boundaries. According to boyd, new affordances (a bit like features) create new behaviours and ways of being which impacted on people’s perceptions of self.

Networked publics 1 - replicability. The “duet this” and “use this sound” buttons, and an example of "how to" content

Replicability: “duet this” and “use this sound” buttons, how to content



In her 2010 paper, Boyd highlighted four key affordances of digital platforms: 

  • Persistence
  • Replicability
  • Scalability
  • Searchability

Of these, the most important to my study is replicability. Tiktok actively encourages users to re-purpose and re-mix other users’ sounds and video. For example, users can add a large red button to their video, asking others to “duet this”. The duet feature encourages interaction and puts their material in front of new audiences they may not have reached otherwise.

In addition, original music and even voiceovers can be saved (to use later) or immediately added to new videos by hitting the “use this sound” button. And many “Day in My Life” TikTokers are happy to show “how to” videos so that other creators can learn from their content and copy them. 

The imagined collective

According to boyd, searchability is the ease with which you could find your friends. This was important in 2010 with profile-based social media – but far less relevant to TikTok now. On TikTok, the algorithm fetches interesting content for you – you don’t rely on your friends for entertainment. Instead, whole publics – communities – grow up around trends and tags. If you watch, like and interact with “Day in My Life” TikToks, you’ll see more of them more often in your TikTok feed.

Communities on Tiktok overlap and shift in ways not always apparent to its users. “Day in My Life” hashtagged content often appears alongside #blog, #vlog or #pov (point of view). Users show awareness of different niches – indicated by responses such as “commenting to stay on #vlogtok” or “commenting to stay on #studytok”. In addition, comment threads are the place where community members publicly acknowledge and say hi to each other: another shift away from profile-based activity.


Networked publics 2 - communities build around tags: The DIML hashtag page encourages interaction

Communities build around tags: The DIML hashtag page encourages interaction

Collapsed contexts

Boyd proposes that the affordances of digital platforms create a particular set of dynamics: contexts are collapsed and the once distinguishable lines between public and private (like front and backstage) are fluid and blurred. But this doesn’t mean that the private sphere no longer exists:. people still have control over their level of visibility and the information others hold about them. 

We see this through “Day in My Life” TikTok where the perfect day is carefully curated and edited to highlight certain aspects of the creator’s life. I found this myself while creating my own Day in My Life videos. Once I’d decided I was going to record clips form one day, I was constantly framing and thinking about what to include. On other days, I found myself keeping a mental scrapbook of meaningful imagery and relatable vignettes, storing them up for use another time.

The videos I posted were my own interpretation and contained nothing I didn’t feel comfortable sharing publicly. Images of my daughter and husband are shown only with their permission. There were points throughout the day where one would say “I hope you’re not recording this!”. In this way, at least, we might be able to feel that privacy still exists, it is “simply in a state of transition” (says boyd). If we choose to live with these new technologies, maybe we’re learning how things might work – and developing strategies to cope. 

Networked publics 3 - making choices: frames from my first Day in My Life TikTok

Making choices: frames from my first DIML TikTok


Boyd was writing in the early 2010s when profile-based social media was dominant. On Tiktok, user profiles fade into the background and the content feed – in particular, the algorithm-driven FYP (For You Page) dominates our attention. Because of this, the algorithm is having its own impact on self-making and identity. 

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll ask whether TikTokers (and other social media users) are living an algorithmized life. Are networked publics giving way to algorithmized publics?

Main photo: Timon Studler on Unsplash

Part 3 – Living the algorithmized life