I promise: This is my last post on social-network “friends” for a while. I reworked my recent post on friends overload and turned it into my latest MediaPost column, realizing I’m simultaneously contributing to the larger problem I address. As usual, be sure to check out the discussion on the MediaPost blog.
Please, No More Friends!Â
August 3rd, 2007 by Max Kalehoff
â€œA friend is a present you give to yourself,â€ read a fortune cookie I received last night. With all due respect to Robert Louis Stevenson, the 19th century poet and novelist responsible for that quote, an overflow of friends in social networks and Web 2.0 is simply making them less like presents, and, in many cases, unmanageable! Call me a curmudgeon, but Iâ€™m not alone.
My colleague Pete Blackshaw wrote recently about the overwhelming number of friend invites: â€œLately Iâ€™ve been getting so many darn friend and connection invites that my head is spinning. From LinkedIn to Facebook to the all-too-common (and bogus) MySpace invite from the girl â€˜who just broke up with [her] boyfriend and is just looking for fun,â€™ itâ€™s all getting a bit crazy. Is spam king Sanford Wallace running this gig? Or am I just reliving Groucho Marxâ€™s famous quip, â€˜Iâ€™d never join a club that would accept me as a member.â€™â€
Indeed, friendship overload is not just driven by human friend requests, but by blurring, if not arbitrary, assignments of the term. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, wrote this week in an email and blog post to members of his new micro-publishing community: â€œFolks have noted that thereâ€™s too much overlap and confusion between â€˜friendâ€™ and â€˜follow.â€™ As Twitter has evolved, these two concepts have emerged in parallel and clouded things up. So, in the spirit of simplification, we are no longer going to define people as your â€˜friends.â€™ The functionality of adding people remains, but the interaction is focused on the term â€˜followâ€™ instead.â€
But friendship overload also is propagating thanks to social-networking and publishing hacks that may have good intentions, but whose efforts result in aggressive amplification that compound the original problem of too many friend requests.
Scott Karp recently commented on the spam potential as people (including me) experiment with cross-posting blog posts with updates to friends (now followers) in Twitter and Facebook: â€œSo I got my Publishing 2.0 feed set up to crosspost to Facebook and Twitter, but Iâ€™m wondering about the utility of doing so, given that most of the people Iâ€™m connected to on Facebook and Twitter also subscribe to my regular blog RSS feed. Iâ€™m starting to think that this has the potential to be hugely annoying â€” and misses the point of Facebook and Twitter. Iâ€™m basing that conclusion on having come across the same blog post (for several different blogs) in Facebook Notes, on Twitter, and then again in Google Reader â€” actually TWICE in Google Reader, since I subscribed to the RSS feed for my Facebook friendsâ€™ notes.â€
Weâ€™re experiencing friends overload, and itâ€™s a tragedy of the commons. The practice of friending has morphed way beyond the termâ€™s original intention and utility. And that is why I declare friends â€” at least in the social-networking context â€” passÃ©.
I became totally convinced of this recently when Surinder Siama of ResearchTalk podcasts not only invited me to be his friend and join his ResearchTalk group on Facebook, but also requested that I serve as an â€œofficerâ€ titled â€œMr. Engagement.â€ The feeling of inclusion and importance that accompanied this officer gesture was nearly as powerful as some of the original friendship gestures I received on Friendster several years ago, when friending was more novel. And this officer request certainly was far more meaningful than any friend request Iâ€™ve received lately. It sounds awkward, but is officer the new friend? Probably not, but it underscores the importance of qualifying our social connections â€” versus haphazardly branding everyone and everything a friend.
Let me be clear: Social networks are very much alive and well, but our traditional, generalized notion of friend is dead. When online friendships begin to scale artificially â€” such as randomly or via the all-too-easy click of a button â€” they run the risk of overwhelming us, causing the aggregate value of deeper social-network friendships to erode.