Thanks for humoring me, really.

But I won’t be bothering you again. I need more than a reach around from my friends, even if it is just an iFriend.

Some people can pretend to be friends with thousands – I can’t. I have enough bandwidth to be a true and good friend to five or six people, tops. And I won’t pretend I am friends with you if I am not.

Sure, we can associate, work together, dream together, and even build things together. But I’ll never claim you as a friend unless a) you deserve it, and b) I deserve you.

But I hate thinking I have a friend when in fact I only have a contact. Someone that finds me interesting when I have something interesting for them, but finds nothing I do interesting at all otherwise.

That is not friendship. That is what we now call “Social Networking” – and it is a completely and totally broken. It is a false promise poorly delivered.

Social Networking, as I envisioned it five years ago, was NOT about a popularity contest. It was NOT about joining the coolest networks and getting the most “followers”. It was about connecting LIKE-MINDED people. It was about using your network to benefit yourself, AND your network. There is nothing social about one sided relationships. What we call “social networking” today is anything but. It is a popularity contest. It is High School cliques. It is an extreme disappointment to me.

LinkedIn has the only “Functional” Networking site I am aware of. I have at last SOME connection with each of my contacts that exists outside of the site itself.

This whole concept of adding friends is completely broken. In fact, it was probably flawed from the beginning. And now it is reduced to actually begging (add me, add me, I am your friend, really!). Guess what – that’s just not good enough. I need more from relationships than the fact we both joined the “social network of the week”.

I won’t add any more people to ANY of my social networks unless I know them. Unless I at least trust them. Unless they at least respect me. Unless we are mutually involved in something outside of the site we are meeting on. Yes, that could be through my blog, or theirs/yours. But is MUST exist outside of the site itself. If my only relationship with you is that we are both on Twitter, or OpenCoffeeClub, then you aren’t my friend – and I won’t waste your time, or let you waste mine by becoming “friends”.

So don’t ask unless you want to be ignored, or unless we actually have something to offer each other. I am not vying for attention with the huge egos that exist on the Internet – there are far more people on the web that you might be able to friend – and that might actually “friend” you. Don’t ask me who they are – I haven’t met any of them. The egos I have met are concerned with me as a number (Hey, I have 10,000 friends on FaceBook! – bullshit – I have a handful of friends on FaceBook. You have 10,000 people that you will eventually disappoint – because sooner or later, friends expect friendship – and you can’t deliver to 10,000 people. You can only let them down!).

So anyone else can win the numbers game – I’m not playing it (and never have). I know almost every person I am a “friend” of – either through my blog (or theirs), or through some other interaction/connection. Mostly related to real world transactions.

I would prefer that online, just as in real-life, I have a few select friends. People I count on, and people that can count on me. Meaningful relationships – not just numbers. I’ll leave the numbers game to the Scoble’s of the world.

Someone really smart will rethink this entire “friends” business and roll it out in a way that has some real meaning – and adds some real value. Start with the Linked in model – improve on it. Find the linkage (the real world linkage) between me and others. Discourage popularity contests. The most effective networks are the ones that offer the most relevance – to ME, as a user of the site. I don’t give a rat’s ass about popularity contests. Popular people are generally too busy managing their own ego-stroking to be of much value to me. Find me the hidden relationships within my small network that may be valuable to me – or others in my network.

Until then, I am checking out of the Social Media craze. I don’t need more contacts. But I would love to make more friends. This current crop of “Social Web Applications” doesn’t really provide either. Find a way to build meaningful AND useful relationships and you may be onto something.

In fact – I think LinkedIn is way undervalued. Both for their product, and their implementation.


  1. @Shel – thanks for stopping by. Chris and I have been exchanging some ideas – ones I’ve documented well on this blog over the last year.

    I don’t think you and I disagree on this matter – and I’ll use you as an example:

    I added you as a friend on Facebook. You replied back, “Hi Robert. Thanks for linking to me as a friend, but I’m not sure how we know each other. Could you refresh my memory?”

    I responded : “Mostly through your blog, and through Alex de Carvahlo. I’ve never met either of you though (but that’s true of me and a lot of people I know). Anyway, we had a long conversation about your blog post, “The Scrapblog job is taken”.

    Having established that we had some connection, you added me as a Facebook Friend. This is exactly what I am arguing above – that I need *some* connection – otherwise you being my friend has no context.

    You established that connection between me and you by sending me an email, and me responding. It would have been much faster and less instrusive if when you received my friend request it already had some context to it – if only the software could offer that. And that’s really what I am arguing for – a global profile where we can set the personal “context” of our online persona – depending on who is asking for it, and why.


  2. Rob,

    Chris K. tells me I have something to do with the conversation you two have been holding. I have to add in that my experience is different. I first met Steve Rubel, Loic Lemeur, Ewan McIntosh,Tom Raftery, Hugh MacLeod through social networking. That experience has contributed greatly to me realworld network and I include them all as valued friends. Theveues where we met may have been virtual but the friendship is very real. In terms of Facebook, people have been instrumental in helping me with my SAP Global Survey and FB has contributed directly and signficantly to my income this year. Linked In, where I have been a member for four years has not.

  3. The behavior that constitutes friendship varies dramatically based on context. My favorite example was when my sister was in 2nd grade and arrived home announcing that she had a new boyfriend. When I asked her how she knew, she replied “he’s my boyfriend because he threw a pear at me on the way home.” Every context has different rules for being “friends” – much of the fun of social media is that we are getting to live through a global learning process around the rules that apply to friendship in a variety of new communication environments.

    • @c keene – You certainly raise valid points. The difference now is the reach people have when “friending” others. They no longer have to be within reach of a “pear throw”. On a social Soccer related site I am a member of I constantly get friend requests from people all over the world that want me to buy their XYZ soccer league and make millions with them. All I want from the soccer site is to help the founders out a bit. I’m not a big fan of soccer.

      This goes back to “context” – something these social network sites are not managing very well. I should be able to check my levels of interest in various aspects of soccer (player, coach, parent, investor, etc) and communications and friend requests should take this information into account when handling requests. Sure – people can still ignore the “context” but if they do it enough, you ban them. I ran a public BBS for years in the early 80’s. Banning was something we often had to resort to just to maintain the atmosphere of the community.

      If people set a preference and “context” and others ignore it, they should be held accountable for being rude in my community.

      Thanks much for the comment – like I said to start with – you’ve made some very good points.


  4. I am finally catching up with my feeds, but I have to agree with this “friending” business. It is really odd to call complete strangers friends.

  5. I exchange ZERO Christmas cards. I have a fairly large “secondary tier of friends”. Call them the Christmas Card group – the one’s people might send a card to but not call. I call my inner group… I email or blog to my outer group – which probably is about 250 people. But I don’t spend money on stamps 🙂

  6. Some of those ‘social science’ studies have an ‘arbitrary feel’ to them (at least, to me).
    I mean, the number 150 was based on a ‘prediction’ based on the size of the human neocortex.
    And then a study (and research) is conducted, that seems to ‘confirm’ this number, and THAT study is based on the exchange of Christmas cards.
    That leaves me staring at the ceiling.
    What can we conclude? That the number of Christmas cards we humans exchange is a function of the average size of our neocortext?
    I have to fear for the size of MY neocortex then! 😉

  7. “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us.”

    –Professor Robin Dunbar


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