Social Networks and Boundaries

Most people today have multiple social networking profiles.  Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, Twitter, Plurk, blogs, etc.  That makes for a pretty open flow of information, but shouldn’t there be boundaries?

What I mean is, do you open your accounts to anyone that wants to view your content?  For services like Twitter, Plurk and blogs (generally) the whole point is to have transparency and openness in your communication.  It’s to put ideas out there, to share content with other people, and to express yourself.  So, there’s no real reason to put a limit on what people can see.  But in services like MySpace, Friendster, or Facebook I think people are taking the wrong approach.

Once upon a time these services were meant to be mostly private profiles, where your content was shared with people you know by adding them as ‘friends’, or contacts.  Somewhere along the line things went wrong.  I blame MySpace.

During MySpace’s boom people started what I like to call the ‘friend game’.  It didn’t matter if you knew the person or not, you just added them in an attempt to have the highest ‘friend’ count.  To me, the idea is ridiculous.  These particular social networks were made for maintaining existing relationships and creating new relationships with people.  Can you really have meaningful relationships with over 1000 people?  How often do you have time to really ‘speak’ to those people on your social networks?  Between Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk I would say there are 80 people or so that I communicate with regularly and that’s pretty time consuming.  Not to say it’s not worth it, or rewarding, but if having a real relationship with 80 people is time consuming, how do you do it with hundreds or thousands?

You see where I’m going with this?  Once you get beyond a certain point you’re no longer doing it for friends, or for networking with people you actually know.  You’re playing the ‘friend game’.  It’s like an extension of the high school popularity contest mentality.  It’s sad though, because those relationships aren’t meaningful and really don’t mean anything at all.

That being said, I use different social services for different levels of privacy.  I reserve Facebook for my real friends and for my family, extended family and on occasion trusted friends of the family.  I don’t invite just anyone to view what’s in my profile.  It’s private and should stay that way.  My Twitter, Plurk, and blog are open and I post content on those platforms accordingly.

I wonder how other people manage their social profiles?  Do they just invite anyone, or do they think about what they’re sharing and then manage their fans into different platforms depending on how much they want that person to know about them?

How Real Are Friends On Social Networks?

I remember asking myself this question a few times, but not any time recently.

When the internet first became popular, and I was delving into the world of AOL chat rooms, the people on the other end of the screen names popping up on my monitor seemed… well, impersonal.  It was always like talking to a group of random strangers, and the idea of making friends with people I’d never met in person was ridiculous.

Well, that was 13 years ago. The times, and my opinion, have both changed.  I’m sure that most people who have grown up with internet access would find it odd to not make and keep online friends.  It seems only natural nowadays to stumble across an interesting person, strike up a conversation, and create a lasting relationship.

I have plenty of friends that I’ve never seen in person, but have known for a long time through various methods of internet communication.  In fact, one of my oldest friends is a friend I made through an online game called Dark Age of Camelot.  We’ve been chatting off and on for about 7 years.  I’ve never know anyone else outside of my family for that long.  I also still communicate with the people I played World of Warcraft with two years ago.

I suppose you could say, “Well how well do you really know these people?”  Sure, that’s a good point.  How well can you know someone who you only communicate with via the internet?  A person can tell you one thing but actually do another, and you’d never know since you weren’t there.  But, I suppose that takes a leap of faith initially, and a little trust.  Also, with the more recent explosion of “real time” social networks (think Twitter) it’s becoming easier to get to know a person you’ve never met.

People Tweet about all kinds of things, from what they have in the morning, to what they do at work, to the last time they were able to successfully take a crap.  That’s pretty personal.  On top of that, people Tweet photos and videos.  I think there are even geo-tagged Tweets now?  Also, programs like Google Latitude are becoming popular.  It’s becoming more and more simple to connect and get to know your online friends.

So, I would have to say that I know plenty of people that I would think of as friends, that I’ve only chatted with online.  What’s your take on it?  Have any interesting stories to share about meeting people online?  Or do you think it’s bad or dangerous?

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