Wednesday, February 20

Making Friends: Social Networks, Much Like Life

Discussions about what constitutes online “friendship” abound about places like Twitter, Facebook, BlogCatalog, whatever.

Some people, it seems, are criticizing groups of friends that develop over time as if they are somehow an exclusive club, which Geoff Livingston rebutted yesterday. Ho hum. As if social media doesn’t somehow mirror real life. It’s mostly the same.

It’s much ado about nothing. Friends are what you make them.

At least that is what I’m going to say next week when I speak about social networks at the Recruiting Roadshow. Social networks are just like any face-to-face network, with two distinctions that don’t add up too much.

The two distinctions between online and offline friends.

The first is simple. Online friends are those people you happened to meet in a "public" online setting before you met them in person. That might seem like a fairly thin distinction, but it holds up.

You might notice that I add emphasis to “public. “ I did because I’ve been introduced to people through email long before I met them in person, and nobody would ever think to give them the “online friend” moniker.

Second, online friendships tend to “seem” more fragile than face-to-face friendships. But that’s not really true either. People follow the same social patterns in life that they do online.

They get a new job, make friends at work, leave the job, and never look back with the exception of staying in touch with one or two people, maybe. They join an association, become involved, make friends, drop out, and never look back with the exception of staying in touch with one or two people, maybe. Where's the difference?

There isn't one, but I do appreciate that fickle friendships are new for most people. It’s not so new to me. I live in a city with such a high transient rate that the chances my son will retain even one friend from kindergarten through the sixth grade is zero.

People move in and out and around Las Vegas at an extremely high rate. There are very, very few constants. So few that making new friends all the time is part of survival in this city. However, much like online, it also makes new friendships commonplace, and even replaceable to the growing number of people who live here.

There are degrees of friendships online, much like life.

Maybe you know the drill and maybe you do not. But if you attend a luncheon, especially as a speaker, people will ask for your business card. Giving them one is not all that different than “friending them back” on a social network.

The only thing that seems to stand in the way of connecting online for some people is the word “friend,” because that tends to be the term that many social networks employ as the connection designation. As a result, people really over think the term. Get over it.

“It’s annoying when total strangers ask to be your ‘friend’ on a network because they just want a lot of ‘friends’ in their network,” some bloggers have told me. But really, what’s the difference between these people and those that work a room at a conference with a fist full of business cards? Do you withhold your card? Probably not.

This really isn’t that hard to sort out. There are connections, associates, colleagues, friends, best friends, and any number of designations if you’re so inclined to put headers over the people you know. So what if Twitter calls it “followers” and BlogCatalog calls it “friends?” It doesn’t mean beans, except for what you bring to the table.

BlogCatalog adds a new layer of friends via the Social Dashboard.

Andy Beard and Charles McKeever were among the first bloggers to write about it, but BlogCatalog added a layer between “friends.” You see, while many social networks talk about convergence, BlogCatalog went ahead and did it.

"The Social Dashboard will help bloggers streamline networking and stay up to date with friends," said Antony Berkman, president of BlogCatalog. "Bloggers tell us they enjoy making friends on BlogCatalog and then connecting with those friends on other networks. Social Dashboard will make it easier while making member profile pages more dynamic."

The new tool allows friends to share activities with other friends across BlogCatalog and nine other social networks: Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Flickr,, MySpace, StumbleUpon, Twitter, and YouTube. It’s easy to operate. All you have to do is subscribe to any friend's feed and all their activities appear on your Dashboard (unless they set change their privacy settings).

What's interesting about the Dashboard beyond the write ups I linked to is that from all your “friends” on BlogCatalog, you subscribe to some not all. Voila. A new layer of connection is created. Those you know; those you follow. That’s not the intent per se, but it does help keep the noise down.

The real deal about friends, online or off.

The real confusion about friendship, online and off, has nothing to do with any of this, of course. Anytime I read about people trying to figure out online friendships, they often start defining qualities that constitute friendship.

Are they nuts? Real friendships are mutually unconditional. There is no definition or expectation. And if you even have one friend like that, then you have more than most.

As for me, I treat online connections much like life. Sometimes it pays to take a chance on a stranger because you really never know whether they will become a real friend unless you give them a chance. Then again, maybe I’m biased because many of my “online friendships” have become “friendships” anyway.

The bottom line is that you can pretend online is somehow different than offline, but the reality is that it is no difference. It only “feels” different because the written word or being center stage has a different impact than casual face-to-face conversations.

It’s the very reason we sometimes feel connected to our favor authors, musicians, actors, whatever. We might feel connected, but they really don’t know us and we really don’t know them. Not really. Then again, we don’t really know the people we think we know anyway. Online, it’s just more obvious.



Anonymous said...


Excellent commentary. Just today I was interviewed regarding a case study focused on my blog. I commented about my virtual friends who live all over the world. Sometimes I think we get hung up on words rather than on what's important.

Virtual relationships might not look like our best friends from the neighborhood Does that make them a lesser person, pal or friend within the wider circle of our relationships?

Rich on 2/20/08, 1:37 PM said...

Exactly that Lewis,

People do get hung up on terms. It makes no difference whatsoever how you know someone. I don't distinguish online friends from offline friends.

It's a conversation that runs deep because many of my friends (not all) have moved from Las Vegas. And, since so many people come here, I've met many "online" people in person. Spatial distance just doesn't seem to fit.


Sweet Tea on 2/20/08, 1:49 PM said...

Great article Rich.You know my story. How a group of my friends saved my dog Boo. It matters not that they're online or offline to me. What matters is they cared enough. They are my friends in every sense of the word.

Rich on 2/20/08, 1:55 PM said...

Hey Jane,

That is an excellent point. Saving Boo removed those illusionary lines between what is online or offline.

Its an excellent example. Where there is a connection, there is a way. :)


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I arrived at this post via a link in my Blog Catalog dashboard. You were one of the people I chose to follow when I set up the new feature. I think this will be very useful in enabling me to keep up with the posts on blogs that interest me, though I probably need to turn off many of the dozens of different types of events that can be included in your "feed".

While it was not the change to the site I was really hoping the BC team would make (see Can Fire Be The Right Tool?) it is a great new feature and the BC team deserves sincerest praise for taking the lead in making all of these divergent social networks work usefully together.

maybei on 2/21/08, 9:51 AM said...

Great article Rich! And something I have given much thought to recently. Like you, I don't make a distinction between online and RL friends. But it's funny that some of my 'real life' friends don't quite understand having online friends. I guess you just have to experience it and be willing to open yourself to it.

Rich on 2/21/08, 11:11 AM said...

@Alan Always glad to see you here, no matter what brought you. :) I understand where you are coming from on your point about certain discussions. Personally, I think it's hard to say what the right answer is, but I do think that Dashboard makes it a richer, more important service for bloggers.

@Maybei I'm so glad you think so. You're right, of course. I think once people make online friends and then those friends no longer need the "online" label, it all starts to make sense.

Schumi on 2/21/08, 1:08 PM said...


All I can say is wow! Its funny, I never gave social networking, online friends, and the lump sum of all this much thought before a year ago, and now a day doesn't pass where both for my RL work and my online play (mostly to do with Jericho) I'm not wandering either through myspace, digg, or some other site for one reason or another. Just last week I had a client suddenly decide "hey, we want to do something in SecondLife" and a week later I'm sitting here with a profile trying to master building objects there.

Funny how use of social networking, blogs and other web 2.0ish technology has blurred into the business world, much like the distinction between "online" and "offline" friends starts to blur once you really get to know people.

Another great article (as always). I love dropping by here to catch your bits of wisdom.


My Den on 2/22/08, 3:10 AM said...

I love this article! Because I am not an avid participant of social networking sites, this unnecessary agonizing over the term "friend" becomes very obvious to me and leaves me amuse.

To me, the term "friend" is an online equivalent of "Hi, my name is John, nice to meet you," kind of greeting that we use in the real world when we want to form a relationship.

It is a very strange phenomenon that I have noticed across social networks, including Blog Catalog, and I surmise it might have something to do with over-inflated egos or even unnecessary suspicion.

Rich on 2/22/08, 4:55 PM said...

@Schumi Always great to see a comment from you Schumi. Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

Or maybe I should say ... Hey, you mean, there are people behind those avatars?

I haven't cause to become immersed myself in Second Life yet, but there seems to something to it. Keep me posted on how it works out for your client.

@Dan You might have something there too. I think it has to do with counting "friends" as if they were the number of songs on an iPod.

Then again, if someone is focused on counting friends, it's a good bet they aren't really friends. :)

Chaffee Street Cafe` on 2/26/08, 9:51 AM said...

Simply lovely, because I count you as one of my dearest on-line friends!

Anonymous said...

It's just a new way to build a good social relationship on internet. Sometime one can only share his life by writing it than telling it face-to-face.

Rich on 5/1/08, 10:01 AM said...

Hey Jookut,

Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate it.

Sure, I would agree with that. In a couple years, we won't think twice about it.

Anonymous said...

I rather have no friends then a bunch of one way mofos
And you can brown nose Blogcatalog and suck up and get your little grove going but is it really worth it PLEASE I have been doing ALOT $ better since I havent gone on blogcatalog and who wants some lame ass wannabe blogger on your site for 15 seconds Keep your ears open for a real blogger community cause I'm building it now.And I will support my local community and not make up a whole bunch of BS to try and save my lame discussion groups PLEAAASEE


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