Why my facebook friends, aren't

Social networking is a big deal mostly because it lowers the barrier to relationships.  Its easy to have 100’s or even 1000’s of friends.  Some you know, most you may not.  I can share updates, send messages, re-connect with the past, share photos, poke people, play games, “like” things, check-in to places, and generally cavort with anyone else that has a facebook account all for free and all with no commitment and very little real investment.  It’s social lubricant with no need to actually build a relationship or invest time, energy or commitment.

I think facebook is awesome for what it is – a fantastic place to share snippets of your life that require little effort to broadcast.  I can upload serious, sad, funny, sarcastic or as nonchalant of stuff as I please.  It costs me nothing (except some data about me I guess), and I don’t give a shit if anyone reads it or comments, or pokes me back.  I assume I’m not alone here but maybe I am.  The trouble with a social network housing my friends without the real notion of what a friend relationship means is that it really just amounts to a people-collecting repository.  A repository that includes lots of people you know, or might know, or used to know – – and their brothers, sisters, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, kids, and pets.  Most of which last time I checked are not my friends.

Maybe its the word “friends” that gets me going.  Perhaps all of this would make more sense if they were called “facebook contacts” or “facebook people” or something more androgynous than “friends”.

In the world of online advertising there’s a lot to do these days with marketers wanting to reach people through “social”.  Facebook and Twitter are the most cited examples of what people mean by “social”.  If I’m not alone in how I regard facebook then it means that most marketing spend here is barking up the wrong tree.  Not only do I not trust the stuff I see on facebook, but (think email or IM) there is little room for a marketing message to squeak in – the medium is to tightly aligned to the task (social networking) to allow the necessary whitespace required for one to see and be affected by the message.

Twitter is the opposite for me.  I explicitly follow people – most of whom I do not know and always without their permission or acceptance of me as a “friend” – when I say it out loud this sounds a lot like stalking.  I do this for one reason: I think they either have something interesting to say/report or they curate and link to interesting things.  My twitter network and my facebook network have nearly no overlap.  I have to wade through waist-deep crap to get anything meaningful or interesting from facebook updates from my “friends”.  In Twitter I’d unfollow you in a heartbeat if all you did was post crap.  The only intersection for me is that every time I “tweet” it auto-posts to my facebook page… is that a contradiction?

People become friends for lots of reasons; mostly I think because of shared interests and shared experiences.  My problem is that the promiscuity of becoming “friends” on facebook lessens the meaning and ultimately deflates the value in these relationships.  The notion of the people I connect with there being my “friends” does little more than dumb down and diminish what it really means to have a friend.