Friday, October 22, 2010

Social Experimentation

Now that I've detailed how many friends lists are maintained, and how I maintain mine, it's time to put this to the test.

The theory: I believe that my social network is comprised of well known associations and that I can make a legitimate justification for each of these.

The test: I will randomly select friends from my friends list. For each friend that I select I will write an entry about them. I plan for these entries to be candid and informative, they will probably consist largely of descriptions about how I know the person but many people will also include some personal stories. If I cannot explain how I know someone and why they're on my list then I will defriend them.

By picking at random I hope to avoid any bias toward people with whom I have a deeper and easier to explain relationship. I'd like to get some of those more awkward relationships out into the open without waiting until the end. If I defriend anyone I will write about it.

I've already entered my current friends list into a spreadsheet. Using random numbers from I've selected 10 people so far. First up, my niece Angela.

Since this is a public blog I'll use first names only, or first name last initial. I don't want people to be listed in stories on the open Internet without their consent but I don't think it's worth getting consent first. When this is reposted on Facebook I will tag people.

That's about it. I'll try to work my way through my friends list. I realize this is the sort of thing that a teenage girl might do, and that makes it so wonderfully awkward. I can't promise any sort of a schedule, but now that I'm committed I have to at least do a few.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Qualifying as My Facebook Friend

In my last post I wrote about how I think most people treat social networking "friends" with a new mix of intimacy and distance, and that I doubt most people have lists filled with true friends. In this post I will explain what is required before I add someone to my friends list, which I believe deviates from the norm in a few ways.

How do you become one of my Facebook friends? The simple answer is that we have to have some significant contact outside of Facebook.* So, to be my friend you must have a deeper connection than simple acquaintance.

I have several previously unwritten measures that I use to determine whether I should send a friend request, or if I should accept one. Most of these I would consider "significant acts." Though I will admit that I'm far more inclined to accept a request because I view that as an olive branch, the request in itself can be considered a significant act.

A significant act is an action that solidifies a friendship or moves an acquaintance up a level. Normally this is something like, "I see this person every day." Sometimes it's someone I'm just getting to know but I've at least had a few interactions with them. More often than not I have had a lasting relationship of some kind with these people, even if that relationship consists of purely online interactions.

This brings me back to the asterisk about contact outside of Facebook. Since I consider online interactions as potentially significant it is not impossible that a person who I only know through Facebook would become a friend. In fact, that happened recently when a friend of a friend (who I've met once but only talked to a little) sent me a friend request. In several interactions with mutual friends he and I had talked, so I felt that I knew him well enough to accept the request.

I can classify most of my friends fairly quickly. There's family, the inescapable fact that if your family is part of your life you will probably interact with them in multiple ways. Friends from everyday life, the people I know because my wife and I interact with them on a somewhat regular basis. Friends from my hometown, likely people that I was completely out of touch with for a decade that these networks have brought back into my life. Coworkers and former coworkers, people who I've met through work that I felt inclined to codify my connection to them. Friends from online, people who I know from my 15 years of online presence. There's also some stragglers in there, but almost everyone falls into these categories.

Having high standards for the people I share my Facebook presence with allows me to worry less about privacy problems that have plagued the service. If I know everyone on my list then I don't have to worry as much about sharing my phone number or email with contacts. I don't worry about telling people my location or my activities, because I know these people well enough to assume they will not abuse the information. I can, at times, have very meaningful interactions on the site. I'm also not weighed down with the noise of hundreds of acquaintances.

I believe that social networks which have been codified need to be maintained. There should be some barrier to entry. There should be situations where you cut ties. Sometimes you lose touch with a person, or you grow apart, and it should be okay to realize this and record it by removing that person from your friends. If one of you decides to get back in touch then you can always re-add.

This is how I manage my social network. In my next post I will introduce an experiment of sorts that I will impose on myself. I hope to prove or disprove how close I am to those in my friends list.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Qualifying Facebook Friends

One of the concepts that social networks are redefining is that of friendship. Sites like Facebook and MySpace focus upon a "friends list" that allows users to interact with one another, control their privacy, or just show off. I think it's intriguing how this has changed the meaning of friendship, and also how it breaks down old walls and builds new ones.

For me, the most interesting aspect is how many social networking users have changed the meaning of "friend" into "acquaintance." While it is common for someone's friends list to achieve membership numbers in excess of 500, it is rare in a real social network that a person would actually consider 500 people their friends. I do not believe that there has been such a huge population of super networkers and that online social networking sites [from here on: Facebook] have suddenly exposed them. Rather, I believe that this demonstrates a situation where somewhat loose acquaintances are now added as "friends" on social networks.

Adding people to your social network seems to have replaced previous acts such as exchanging business cards, phone numbers, or emails. In many ways it is superior to the actions it replaces. If you meet someone at an event that was planned using Facebook then you can later add them from the attendees list. However, the boundaries are significantly different between adding someone to a list online and giving them your phone number.

Social contexts were dramatically different before the advent of Facebook. If I give you my phone number you probably feel some hesitation to use it if you do not know me well. If you never use it then we will never communicate. If, instead, I add you to my friends list on Facebook then we barely have to initiate communication. Unless I've quarantined you using privacy features then you'll likely see my every status update, and you can choose to browse through most of my interactions. In essence, I've conveniently opened my life to someone I may barely know.

The walls continue to break down from there, though. While you may have felt that hesitancy to use my phone number or email, it's less likely that you will hesitate to write something on my wall or reply to a status update. This is a major social dynamic of early contact that has changed dramatically. Not only can a short encounter cause me to open my life to you, but the social code dictating further contact has opened up such that it is far more likely that you will engage me.

That's not to say that new barriers haven't formed. It may be easier for communications to occur and that may enable lesser acquaintances to know more and say more, but these interactions are by far less intimate and less important. Significantly more interaction is required before any sort of trust is established, which is somewhat ironic considering the volume of information you've likely shared.

The other big wall is one that may or may not be real, but in a world where everyone is at your fingertips you may not have such an urge to meet up in person. I say this may not be real because I do not believe that online communication will create a generation of reclusive geeks who only talk online. Those geeks will be there, but they were there last generation as well, and the one before that and so on. More to the point, those who don't already fall into this category will not be reclassified due to social networking. Instead, I believe that some of the types of encounters we used to have will be less prevalent. After all, who needs to meet and catch up with friends if you never quite fell out of touch?

The cliché is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Absence is almost nonexistent in modern culture. We are always online, always available, always within reach. This can have many unwanted effects between friends. Those old friends from high school are now available, but they might not be the same person you remember. If you put your coworkers in your network you might suffer from too much information or too much exposure. These things serve to deteriorate relationships, not to grow them.

Is this the right way to handle social networking? I believe it is not. It certainly isn't right for me. In my next post I will discuss how I handle my Facebook friends. Beyond that, I hope to explore some patterns and actions that may help bring these things more in line with past societal expectations.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Route 23 Honda

Last month I had to make one of those big financial decisions. My old truck finally crossed that line of marginal utility where the cost to benefit ratio was no longer in its favor. New car time.

So, you're looking at the title of this and thinking, "this guy bought a Honda." Wrong. However, I did have a great interaction with a Honda dealership. I came so close to buying a Honda Fit that I actually put a down payment on it to hold it until the weekend. In that time, I decided to buy a different car. Yet, I walked away from this so happy with the way I was treated by Route 23 Honda that I feel I need to sing their praises.

First, there was our salesman, Alton Brown. We wanted to buy the car just so we could make Good Eats jokes for the next 10 years. Of course, he was just a pretty good guy. He wanted to sell the car. He didn't want to lie to us. He didn't want to make a bunch of small talk or try any sneaky salesman tricks. Sure, he had the pamphlet on the car memorized, but I never caught any of the little deceptions that pretty much every other salesman we met threw in. Over the course of our dealings he was pretty open and didn't disappear for too very long.

Then there was the price. Cost was a major factor for me. I need basic transportation with a little cargo flexibility and room for my family. Beyond that it's all dollars. I have a spreadsheet that compares the yearly TCO for a range of cars. I used various resources to collect information on the price of each vehicle, including what people really pay. I knew that Honda doesn't cut too many deals. And yet, they did. They offered me a price that sites like TrueCar say the Fit simply doesn't sell for, at least not new. Even better, I was approved for a loan with a 0.9% APR. I knew I was getting a great deal.

So, I signed some papers and put a deposit down. They said the deposit was refundable. The paper they had me sign said it wasn't. So I had them note that it was and initial it. I knew Amex would have my back, but I was still nervous about the potential fight to back out. I had a pit in my stomach about it afterward. Oh well, it would be a pain but it might not even be necessary.

It was, though. We backed out. Not because the deal was bad. Not because the car was bad. Instead it was because another car, the Kia Soul, was a better fit for us. We liked it better. It was more comfortable. No fault of Route 23 Honda, they did a great job.

Amazingly, here's where things got even better. A simple phone call to my salesman was all that was required to cancel the deal. I could hear he wasn't happy about it, but he didn't say anything to that effect. I thanked Alton and told him we'll see him next time. I hung up. A few days later I had to give my credit card number to their billing department (they actually have security on their system so the number was unavailable) and they issued the refund.

That's it! It was one of the best experiences I've ever had with a dealership, and I didn't even buy there. Because of this, I will certainly visit Route 23 Honda any time I'm shopping for a car. Good dealerships are few and far between.