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.

No comments: