Yet Another Facebook Story (YAFS Vol. 1 No. 3)

Danah Boyd, Noah Brier and Rob Walker are questioning Facebook’s role in their lives. They’re not alone. Just two weeks ago Om Malik, Scoble and Calacanis conducted a distancing ceremony.
Danah explains:

I lost control over my Facebook tonight. Or rather, the context got destroyed. For months, I’ve been ignoring most friend requests. Tonight, I gave up and accepted most of them. I have been facing the precise dilemma that I write about in my articles: what constitutes a “friend”? Where’s the line? For Facebook, I had been only accepting friend requests from people that I went to school with and folks who have socialized at my house. But what about people that I enjoy talking with at conferences? What about people who so kindly read and comment on this blog? What about people I respect? What about people who appreciate my research but whom I have not yet met?

I can totally appreciate what Danah’s saying about context. At the same time, I think there is a foundational context to some of these social networks. On MySpace, bands provide that context, or glue. For me at least, MySpace is a place, perhaps the place, to interact directly with bands. I realize other realities play themselves out on MySpace, but I went there for that and I receive that.
Facebook’s glue that binds is “friends from school.” Like fans of bands, friends from school are real relationships with an online dimension. Therein lies the soc net magic. Soc nets work best when they magnify and facilitate real life friendships.
Then there’s the possibility of making new friends. In Danah’s case she’s overwhelmed by the mass of requests. I’m sure alot of bands on MySpace are likewise overwhelmed. But “fans” and “customers” are practically synonymous, so a certain type of “friendship” does often form. And when you look at all the possibilities for forming new fan-to-fan friendships, a rich milieu it does seem. For instance, if you like Kings of Leon, you may also like other fans of the band that you “meet” online.
What’s happening to the digerati is they’re becoming globes that others orbit around. Dahah Boyd as indie band, or private university. That could make anyone uncomfortable. Yet the gravity of a star is natural law and what brings people to the party.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. The problem with any social networks and the whole “friend adding” thing is that there’s no formal etiquette when it comes to what to do when someone asks to be your friend.
    When someone calls you on the phone, you say “hello.” What do you do when someone adds you?
    A friend is in the eye of the beholder. I started on Friendster, and kept that purely people I decided were friends, true ones, whether or not I had met them in person. (One of my best friends I have not yet met in person – it’s been 10 years.)
    Then MySpace came around and it became the perfect repository for all my pseudofriends. But then everyone came out of the woodwork and I had so many friends there, I couldn’t easily find someone if I needed to talk to them. So I just started paring down those friends to real ones and ditched Friendster.
    Now with Facebook, it’s the first major social network that allows you to put some context to your friends. You can tell someone how you know a person. So there’s a reason for being on your friends list, even if it’s a loose one.
    “This is my wife.” “I met this guy at a trade show and he seem cool.”
    We’ve been doing that on the social network I run as well and it makes people worry a lot less about pulling the trigger on “friends” when they can explain themselves.

  2. This whole question strikes me as absurd. Friends are the people you choose to, um, befriend. You help them lift a giant-ass television when they’re moving, or listen to them when they’re questioning their marriage. These point-and-click “relationships” have so little actual consequnce, require so little personal investment, conflating them with actual friendship is almost offensively trite. Facebook is nothing more than a deep-penetration contact manager, Act! gone slightly creepy. Nothing more. Get some perspective to go with your “stardom,” please.

  3. How ’bout this? I’ll expand my present perspective to include your “deep-penetration contact manager” view of things.

  4. Why not talk it over with a few people, first…? 😉

  5. Oh, and I think you may be having some technical problems with your content manager.

  6. David – We never heard of this problem with LinkedIn.
    Personally, I think part of the problem falls upon the use of the “f-word.” I just cut a short, (hopefully) humorous video on this very topic:
    I’m willing to bet Facebook focuses on the friending process in the near term.

  7. Kevin,
    Danah really rips into LinkedIn with this bit:

    I had to quit LinkedIn after I got lambasted for refusing to forward requests from people that I didn’t know to people who are so stretched thin that I am more interested in hugging them than requesting something of them.

    p.s. I like your “f-word” take on things.

  8. That’s interesting David.
    LinkedIn has always been just about business contacts. No one’s asked me to forward requests to anyone. Mostly because none of my adland friends bothered to sign up for anything beyond the basic membership.
    Facebook is just odd because there’s no way to draw lines between work friends and social friends. It just becomes awkward for so many reasons that it’s easier to just let it lie.
    You’re also forgetting that someone like Danah works in the sort of business where contacts are everything. Most people aren’t getting barraged by business or online contacts as much as their friend’s cousin’s neighbor who they met at a party.
    Rob makes two excellent points: about the “f” word and about the contact manager.

  9. I’m not that popular on Linked In, but I do have this one friend with tons of contacts who is always getting me to refer her to this one and that one. That whole system is so cumbersome.
    I have repeatedly looked at upgrading my account to try and meet some new people but even at the highest rate, you’re looking at about $5 per contact. I think it’s a good mechanism to make sure you don’t get inundated with sales people or something. But it might be more interesting to have people put a price on getting emailed.
    If I’m a junior person and welcome contact from anyone, maybe I cost 50 cents or something. If I’m a big time CEO, it’s $100. Split the revenue with the user. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there willing to spend $100 to get an email read by a top exec.
    The problem with all major social networks is that they try to be one-size-fits-all.
    Can anyone tell me what the purpose of Myspace is? It’s just…there. People have accounts. People have friends. What do you do there?

  10. @Marc: LinkedIn is popular with senior business people for precisely the reason you mention: none of us want strangers to try and contact us. Even if they are friends of friends of friends.
    We want to have our virtual address books on line. And if we’re meeting a new client or persepctive hire, we want to be able to sniff each other out in a decidedly canine way: who do you know that I know? Who do you know that I’d like to know?
    But again, what we don’t want is anyone we don’t actually know trying to contact us.
    Hence the beauty of LinkedIn and it’s concurrent frustration to people such as yourself.

  11. @Toad: One of LinkedIn’s big selling points is introductions from trusted business conduits. They’re trying to do an end-around the old cold call. If you know someone I want to know and can make an introduction, your value as a business contact rises immeasurably. So, to have someone like Danah complain about the very function at the heart of LinkedIn is an alarm sounding for the ladies and gents in Mountain View.