Dec. 16th, 2009

mackenzie: (Misc - Triscuit Love)
On Facebook today, a friend (both in the Facebook and traditional sense of the word) was lamenting the practice of sending a Facebook friendship request to someone they've barely met.

This is a practice in which I regularly engage. In the social networking vernacular, I'm a collector. I have 862 friends on Facebook. My friends include people I know from high school, college, social dance, work, graduate school, and my various subculture communities.

Facebook friending new acquaintances is a way to bridge the gap between two busy sets of social schedules and make a down payment on a possible future proper friendship.

I might meet someone who is interesting at a party, but I'm unlikely to see them again until the next party hosted by the same people. Exchanging contact information and then e-mailing back and forth isn't a particularly efficient way of establishing compatibility as proper friends, as more than one dating website has shown me. LiveJournal puts me smack in the middle of a person's life in a falsely intimate way. And, with my schedule, I'm very unlikely to be able to make time for someone of unknown compatibility and fun when I have people in my life I already know I really really like but never get to see.

Facebook friendship lets me see how someone interacts with the rest of their social group, get invited to events they may attend, and see who else we both know. It puts me into their life in context without overwhelming me with information that is out of step with how close we are based on a single initial conversation.

In short, Facebook friending someone I barely know is a way for me to express interest in potential future friendship in a way that doesn't force intimacy and time commitment.

Not everyone sees social networking the same way. Some folks really only want to be internet friends with people they're, you know, friends with. This absolutely makes sense to me in the context of answering the question "Who do I share information with?" but it doesn't make sense in the realm of "social networking." From a network perspective, I want my network to be as big as possible while still allowing me to maintain it.

One of the nice things about social networking as opposed to, say, LiveJournal, is that a mismatched set of expectations surrounding the word "friend" doesn't have the same potential for drama. A collector will send out friend requests more or less willy nilly, and is unlikely to worry much if they don't get an affirmative reply. A person who prefers to only friend people they know will just decline the request and roll their eyes at people who think exchanging names is grounds for "friendship."

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MacKenzie

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