I was just reading this article about some harassment lawsuit involving Facebook which actually had some interesting observations:
Geoff Dick [senior lecturer in information systems at the University of NSW], who last year conducted a extensive study of MySpace use by teenagers, said most people now saw the networking sites as more of a communication medium than a circle of friends.
Although many "friends" listed on users' profiles were really acquaintances, problems still arose if one was to conduct a "cull" of them.
"Removing someone from your friend list is almost a declaration of war," Dr Dick said.
I guess I declared war on everyone in my Twitter list recently as I deleted them all in a fit of "why the fuck am I following all these people?"-style angst I had the other day. I'm seriously considering doing something similar with the 300 people in my Facebook friend list as well.
The core of the issue is that I don't really like "networking". In social situations, I never remember people's names, where they work, what they do or why they are talking to me. Part of the reason I stopped participating in Mobile Monday was simply because it was becoming more and more painful to smile and nod at people who said hello to me month after month and have ZERO idea of who they were.
The idea of transitioning this same sort of pain online? Why would I do that to myself? I really just don't understand the reason to have so many contacts - in Twitter, Facebook, or even in my email addressbook. Some people naturally seem to both enjoy and actually thrive by having more and more tangential relationships with people. I just can't stand it. There doesn't seem to be any real reason to have that many people I've barely - or more likely - never met as "friends". Any interaction with them will be disingenuous at best.
Worse, it's not like their names are just sitting there (which bugs me already - who the hell are these people?), using services like Facebook and now FriendFeed, I'm now also seeing all their statuses, links, family photos and stuff. I just tried out FriendFeed and the focus of the service made it really dawne on me how insane this stuff is. It's just full of *junk* from people *I don't know*.
Back to the article - I already knew that "those kids today" were giving up email for social networking services, but I hadn't thought of those sorts of services specifically as a "communication medium". That's definitely interesting - but what's also interesting is that I'm not the only one who has issues with how useless these tenuous contacts are:
Garry Dean, a 26-year-old office worker, said he had more than 200 "Facebook friends" but he would not classify the vast majority as actual friends.
"They are people that I have come into contact with in my life, some going back to primary school. Most of them I don't even talk to," he said. "They are not friends, they are just a little icon on my screen."
Mr Dean said he was considering "ditching" his profile altogether to get away from most of them because he thought it would be rude to remove them as "friends".
"There are too many. I'm sick of getting constant email alerts telling me that some nobody I haven't spoken to in 10 years has updated something on their site," he said.
Website editor Jessica van Coppenhagen, 24, said she "only" had about 100 friends on her Facebook page and claimed she was in regular contact with "at least 80 per cent of them".
She said she had no problem approving people from her distant past as "friends", or removing them if she desired.
"Isn't that the whole point of this medium - getting in touch with people you wouldn't normally?" she said. "Why would you just have your friends on Facebook. Wouldn't you just talk to them? Why would you need Facebook?"
The first person above is sick of getting notified about people he barely knows, and even though the second person doesn't mind it, she doesn't actually consider any of those people friends, as you'd just talk to them if they were.
Which, I guess, is exactly my point.
You know how Instapaper recently launched and simplified the idea of saving bookmarks to read for later by cutting out much of the crap? I think there needs to be a similarly styled site which simplifies the whole social networking stuff as well to be useful for interacting with just the handful of real friends most people actually have.