I am flattered that over 850 people have considered me a “friend” on Facebook. The thing is, I don’t actually know the vast majority of them.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Often, I’ve heard those who are more dubious of online social networks complain that the “friendship” connections made in these environments are shallow and primarily for show. But while there is truth to this sentiment, it is equally true that I have developed some meaningful and very real friendships with people I’ve never met in real life, but have “friended” me through Facebook or Twitter or what have you.
Usually this connection is made because one of us appreciated something the other did in a blog post or tweet, and decided to formalize the association with one of the social networks. Sometimes people are just casting about for folks who share their interests or points of view. Let there be no doubt, folks like Brent, Kenzoid, and my Bespectacled Blog Twin Miranda, among many others, are my friends in the fullest sense of the word, though I’ve never met any of them. (Indeed, I first connected with Brent in the early 90s as were among those playing Ren-and-Stimpy-Star-Trek on the message boards of Prodigy. Long story.)
But there are also many more folks in my Facebook friend list with whom I have no meaningful interaction. There’s no enmity or anything, but at one time a connection was made but not tended to, and so these folks wound up as mere numbers on my friend count. While Facebook allows the option to hide the posts of folks you lose interest in or who pollute the news stream with Farmville accomplishments, they leave open all sorts of possibilities for unwanted solicitations, invitations, “suggestions”, and other online effluvia. Well-intentioned as it all may be, these folks only artificially inflate a friend count that, let’s face it, impresses no one anymore.
I think you see where I’m going; while Facebook is a more meaningful destination and experience if it is populated exclusively by people with whom you have a genuine and meaningful connection, it would be a shame to miss out on new friendships because of some arbitrary blockade against those folks you’ve simply never before encountered. I know I spend a lot of time on Facebook, so it makes sense to find a way to optimize its most crucial aspect: the personal connections.
So here’s what I’m thinking: The institution of Facebook Probation in which new friendships are, on the whole (and assuming they are not spam) accepted with no questions, and a period of time is allowed for this new connection to interact, comment, post, etc. This gives a new friend a fair chance to add value to one’s Facebook experience, and if they turn out not to do so — either by neglect, tediousness, or outright offensiveness — one should feel free to cut the connection and unfriend.
I think I’m going to try this out. All I have to lose, really, is an puffed-up friend count that really tells you nothing about the quality of my online and offline connections. I suppose I could also potentially lose eyeballs — most of the traffic to this blog comes from Facebook postings, but I can also give fair warning for folks to “like” the Near Earth Object Facebook page so they can always keep the Object in their, if you will, orbit.
And of course there’s always Twitter, which I see as more of a cacophonous stream than a comfortable hangout. Anyone is pretty much free to follow anyone there, and so it should be.
I’ll think this over first, but it might be a good way to civilize and bring order to at least one aspect of my life. And considering who we’re talking about, it’s a pretty big aspect.