On friendship and Facebook

I hear [Bill Gates](http://blogs.wsj.com/biztech/2008/02/12/bill-gates-quits-facebook/) and Mark Zuckerberg ([limited profile](http://www.facebook.com/s.php?k=100000080&id=4)) get loads of [Facebook](http://facebook.com/) friend requests.
On the other end of the spectrum, the average Joe probably has a smaller list of people whom he actually knows. He doesn’t add anyone he doesn’t know. That’s straightforward.
For the rest of us, somewhere in between, we may have requested friendships of people whom we don’t know personally (famous or not). [Techcrunch](http://techcrunch.com/)’s Michael Arrington is my Facebook friend though we’ve never met before, because he invited all his readers to add him as one. So I did.

I’ve managed to make Facebook friends of a few more A-list bloggers, but that’s mostly because we were at SXSW. But that’s as far as I’ve pushed it.
Another exception I make is when preparing to meet people with whom I share a common interest, e.g. a meetup, a class or someone who has a mutual friend. In this case, we may both want to find out more about each other and who our friends are. So we add each other on Facebook. Then later on, we meet up and have a context on which we can communicate.
What happens when we receive requests from people we don’t know? For me, I usually send them a message in Facebook. “Hi, have we met before?” I usually get a straight answer – no, but we were at the same conference / no, but we’re both interested in Virtual Worlds / yes, we met several years ago… from there, I decide if I should add them. If they’re in Singapore and I’m likely to bump into them at the next geek gathering, I add them. I prefer to err on the sociable side.
Right now I have 5 Facebook friend requests which I haven’t authorised. I don’t know any of them personally. 2 are from Singapore. One of them was a case of mistaken identity.
Facebook is no [LinkedIn](http://linkedin.com/). LinkedIn is taken more seriously, though the boundaries between the two have blurred a bit now that colleagues can become Facebook friends, and workplaces can form their own networks. But with both, you can choose how much information you wish to share. Facebook particularly has improved its privacy settings after a couple of high-profile boo-boos.
LinkedIn strongly recommends that we only add people whom we know. From what I recall, if you try to add someone who doesn’t know you (or who doesn’t want to add you), and he rejects your request, the next time you try to add someone else, you have to enter that person’s email address as an extra precaution. With Facebook, so far all I’ve seen is that the ‘Add as friend’ button is greyed out and you can’t click it again.
I don’t see the purpose of adding people you don’t know and whom you are unlikely to meet. I gave in once to another Singaporean who simply wanted to make Facebook friends. If I’m asked again by another random stranger, I will probably refuse.
If social networking were to generate ‘social capital’ for each of us, I’d say adding lots of random people whom you don’t know personally, is like having lots of [banana money](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_money). And you should feel a little uneasy at the thought of having lots of random strangers knowing so much about you. Unless you’re an exhibitionist or a voyeur, or both.
Some friends and colleagues use Facebook in a very constructive way. They read all their friends’ status updates, and if any of them is feeling down, they ask about the person. This is admirable. Facebook doesn’t always have to be about ‘me’; it can also be about ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘we’.
So, to those who’ve moaned to me, “Aiyoh, you have over 500 friends and I only have 100+” – was this a competition in the first place? Don’t just cast the net wide, but build deeper relationships with your existing contacts!


  1. Dominik

    I came to the same conclusion a few days ago – and I reduced my friend list on facebook. Now it only consists of people I either now in real life or people I am in contact with online quite closely. I start to feel more and more that this close net of people makes Facebook a lot more valuable to me than a wide net with many people I never really got in contact with before.

  2. brian

    i tend to err on the social side of Facebook as well.. and for me, having more people on Facebook is like having a wider address book in a way.
    I guess the nature of my work plays a part, since in PR, it is sometimes about people, and helping to join the dots, and making myself as accessible as i can helps with the crowd-sourcing -)
    i find there’s nothing deeply personal that i can’t publish online. if it’s meant to stay private, it simply doesn’t get published online -)

  3. Daryl Tay

    I agree about the “friend competition” which I think seems to expand to Twitter as well.
    I generally add most people on Facebook for the same reasons as you, but I should at least either have met them or have a common interest. It’s definitely helped me get into contact with people I wouldn’t have otherwise!

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