Social media is all the rage. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and FriendFeed are all the golden children of the movement. Some are well known; almost everyday words of our social vocabulary, some are on the verge of hitting the mainstream and others are still in the early adopter hinterland. The one thing that connects them all and is the only thing that makes them work is the idea of friending and being friended.
Neither of those words currently exist in a dictionary but that will most likely change in a world where made up words derived from our interaction with computers and the Internet become the language of our society.
Friending and friended – the currency of social media, because without either of those actions social media would be a dead concept. We are lead to believe that if we want to be an active participant of the social media world we need to friend as many people as we can and in turn be friended by as many people as possible.
While this can happen organically as you make your way through the new social media minefield we often see this friending cycle jump started by early adopter types like Robert Scoble as is evidenced by his recent post about the top people in the tech blogging field and on FriendFeed or Twitter.
Many people on FriendFeed reported a rash of friending notifications after the list was published; myself included. While I am sure that many of those people who were friended returned the favour and friended those new friends I am equally sure that some didn’t return the favour. However today I found two equally interesting blog posts talking about this whole friending things which has prompted me once more to write down a few thoughts about this social media currency.
The first post was by Jeremiah Owyang where he suggests that at some point this whole cycle of friending will become obsolete because we have taught the web to be smart
Thinking forward a few years, ‘friending people’ whether in Facebook, Plaxo, or will no longer be an activity that we’ll have to do. Intelligent websites (and their data) will be able to determine who our friends are from our behaviors, context, and preferences, without us verbally (or physically) having to indicate so.
This idea of course is based on the assumption that social media is the end game for our online lives – that nothing is going to come after this supposed greatest invention. Personally I really hope this isn’t the case because even the idea that even an intelligent version of Facebook being the very best that we will ever come up with as a use of this incredible thing we call the Internet is depressing.
This does however raises another point that really bothers me and that is the idea that this friending is something that will be automatically done. Sorry I want to be able to pick my firends – electronic ones or real life ones. Just because they might have friended me for what ever reason that doesn’t mean that I want – or should – friend them back.
This was the idea behind a post by Mark O’Neill who suggests that when someone friends you and you don’t reciprocate you aren’t just breaking down the networking effect of social media but you are also being down right rude
A social network is all about networking and reciprocating. It’s all about talking to one another. But if you subscribe to someone and they don’t return the favour, that isn’t networking, that’s just being downright rude. It’s like standing in the middle of a street and talking to a brick wall. It also defeats the whole point of social networking in the first place.
You know what?
I have written previously about how I feel that just because a person has friended me I shouldn’t be forced to feel obligated to friend them back. They might not have interests that even come close to things that I find interesting. They might write about things that I couldn’t careless about. As well – using FriendFeed as an example – why the hell would I want to friend someone who has a private subscription. It’s not like I can even find out if they have similar interests or what they write about will be something I want to care about. Additionally how do I know that they aren’t some clever marketer that I want nothing to do with. By forcing me to request them to allow me to subscribe to them and then having to decide if there is any value there for me only increases my workload not make it easier.
Social media is not suppose to be about enhancing everyone information pool. It is about making mine as valuable to me as it can be. That means picking and choosing who I want on some social media service friend list. It means that I can decide what information I want coming into my feed and if some person who by chance; or by list, friended me can’t handle the fact that I don’t find what they are bringing to the table of value then too damn bad.
The other thing is too, just because I don’t find what that person has in their information pool of value it doesn’t have to change the fact that they still get a value from mine.
Social media and networking isn’t about friendship, friending et al. It is about the sharing of information and sometimes your information sucks and sometimes so does mine. I might not be interested in your information or you might not be interested in mine. That doesn’t change the fact that the sharing of information isn’t a mutual operation. We are placing to much value on the word ‘friend’ as being the connector of information.
So I tell you what – don’t try and guilt me into being your friend and I won’t return the favor. If you like the goodies in my information pool feel free to hook into it and if I feel the same about yours I’ll do the same. Otherwise suck it up – we don’t have to be friends in order to share information.
[Pool of Knowledge photo courtesy of Ian Muttoo]
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