Over on Newsweek there is much concern and hand-wringing over the number of “friends” one can have on social networking sites. The author points out Facebook’s 5000 friend limitation and MySpace’s no-holds barred, bring as many as you like mentality.

They even drag out the obligatory expert, in this case some guy that has written a book (believe it or not) all about social networking. It’s like people are trying to continue this charade that in fact people we friend on social networking sites are actually friends. Newsweek finally comes out saying;

Maybe by now you’re getting the idea that a friend at Facebook or MySpace is not necessarily the same as a real friend, the kind who brings you chicken soup when you’re sick and posts multiple favourable reviews about your book on Amazon

You don’t say!

In this respect the business networks have an easier path than the social networking players, no one thinks for a minute that a contact on LinkedIn is a friend – rather it is a business connection with a specific level of connectedness. On Facebook however their is no distinction between my wife (who is a friend of mine) and the guy who left my suburb back when we were seven years old (he’s a friend as well). Newsweek gets back to hand wringing saying;

But such online linking does have deep social implications, and as one’s friend list grows, so do some problems. People judge each other by whom they list as friends. Inevitably, human noise finds its way into a collection of friends, because people tend to cave in and agree to friendship when asked by someone they barely know, or in some cases don’t know at all. In real life, we are spared the explicitness of a bald request to be a friend, but there’s no such luck online—even ignoring someone’s friend request doesn’t gloss over the fact that you’re rejecting him or her. “It’s socially awkward, and very hard to draw the line,” says Danah Boyd, a researcher at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

I can see it now – we’re going to spawn an entire industry of psychoanalysis based on social networking friend envy – oh please. So in an attempt to minimise the neuroses of an entire generation, I’d like to suggest a new descriptor that once and for all removes any suggestion that these people are friends – lets call them connections and then chose how closely we classify them – friends is just too much of a misnomer.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Such a good point about friends/connections – one I was trying to explain to a baffled colleague today. I think some people are more open to the concept of social network friends and feel comfortable interacting with them than others. That doesn’t mean they are shallow relationships, just less formal. I have more interaction with some people on Twitter – whom I have never met face-to-face – than I do some office colleagues.

  • This is so true. It can be a bit of a frustrating term, but can also be quite funny / ironic as well. Have a look at http://todaysbigthing.com/2008/04/30.

  • This is the reason why I haven’t joined Facebook – I don’t consider having a bunch of random people classified as my ‘friends’. And your distinction between business networks is completely spot-on. I use Plaxo and LinkedIn and my non-virtual networks all the time. And its ok if someone doesn’t accept my interest there as its probably about lack of alignment on business interests / values as opposed to whether they want to be my friend (or not!)

    That video was great Phil. Almost as good as http://www.straightfrommybrain.com/indexhibitv069/pensionbook/

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