When is a friend not a friend?

27Jan08

The bottom line on facebook and similar solutions is they are falling into the same problems that beset Microsoft: they try to redefine the English language.  Whilst Microsoft redefined the terms such as windows and font, facebook are trying to redefine the word “friend”.

The truth is that in facebook a friend is someone, anyone with whom you wish to share information about yourself, and in return gain information about them.  That is not a friend in my dictionary.   The kind of people I wish and (or if facebook is to succeed then “need”) to share information with over this platform are not all friends.  Most of these are acquaintances and indeed some of them I may have never met.  Some may be business colleagues and some may simply be business contacts.

Now with services such as Linkedin one shares ones business information and sharing that to a wider business audience is acceptably seen as a good thing for all concerned since in business sharing business information never does any harm.  In contrast with facebook one is sharing personal information – and that could most definitely be harmful.

Many people are happy if their Internet persona(s) are fairly well known.  Even anonymous bloggers gain credibility over time, building into a respected reputation if they take a well thought out and researched stance on the subjects of their choosing – all presented with some consistency.

In facebook however anonymity is not an easy thing to achieve, or even wish for.  Facebook is all about connecting you to your friends.  Well, I have a lot of my friends on facebook and we love it at that level.

The problem comes when facebook extends the metaphor of a friend.  Yes it has privacy settings but generally these are so coarse and unrefined as to be near useless.  You can expose information to all your friends and generally that is it.  All or nothing.

What is needed is granularity.  We all need to be able to choose different types of contacts.  Some are colleagues, some are contacts and some are friends and family.  In fact Facebook captures some of this information, for example you can indicate if someone is part of your extended family.  However this information is for display purposes only and has no functional value.

What a waste.

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One Response to “When is a friend not a friend?”

  1. 1 ugnome

    The question of what constitutes a friend in today’s evolving society, largely dominated by technology is indeed one worth exploring; however, I don’t feel that these large online networks, or specifically, Facebook, as you mentioned are in any way trying or even succeeding in redefining the concept of a friend. Though many of these network communities, namely Friendster, may be marketing through implications and references that this is the new way to “make friends,” in reality, these are still simply networking tools as the term indicates. Friends for the large part are still people that we meet in person, have physical contact with. Most people, in fact, do not “friend” someone until they have met or talked with before. Online communities such as Facebook and Myspace, are the ways in which society today is able to more easily keep in contact with people. It is as you had mentioned. These are places for networking and even business or academic or social contacts; it by no means, takes the place of the older idea of a friend. Those who are indeed our friends, we may keep in contact through Facebook, but it is not the only means by which that friend is contacted or the terms by which we call them “friend.”


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