Online Social Networks are they friends or not?

August 14 , 2007

Once upon a time

at lunch time you would invite someone to sit down with you to eat, share a snack and that’s how you became friends. Sometimes if you are lucky those friends are the ones you can call on when you’ve got a flat tire on the side of the interstate when its pouring rain in Oklahoma. These days friends are sometimes people you’ve never even met but for some reason or another they find your screen name via linkedin, twitter, flickr, or facebook.

What are your rules for friendship online?

Some of these social sites do not allow the distinction of acquaintance, professional, or friend. These sites have different reasons for existing and wouldn’t necessarily work if there was a distinction of the social groups.
Flickr allows contact, friend or family.
Twitter allows friend, or follower
Linkedin allows contact
Facebook has friends.

I’ve met a lot of people via conferences, and websites but I do not necessarily want them in all my social networks. Being a girl I’ve always been taught to be polite and by denying someone into my social network feels cruel. All the social online networking groups are starting to make this feeling go away for protection of my privacy and safety.  I’ve denied people on flickr that had all Asian women in their contact list. I’ve denied people who were twittering things in other languages because I didn’t know them and didn’t have time to translate what they were saying.


When did approving someone into your social network mean you were approving them as a good designer/coder/person?
Is standing next to someone at a conference in a photo mean you are friends?
What are your rules for approving someone into your social network?


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 03.13 am

David Cafaro

Good post, good issues.  What is a friends in the post friendster world?  What new walls, barriers, social contracts do we need now?

Should each site be considered a different level of friendship?  Linkedin the professional acquaintance focus?  Myspace the close knit friends? Twitter the large group of friends and friends friends gathering in a public place to hang out and talk?  What post where is going to land you in trouble with your next job interview?  Which post is going to have the stalker following you?  Do you setup separate Online identities?

I’m already an introvert in the physical world, so I tend to be reserved in the online world with my private life.  My friends have my phone/TXT number and can contact me whenever they need to, the rest are most likely acquaintances or friends to be, and there is some seperation via email/IM contact only.  The difference is the delay in response.


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 04.00 am


yeah it’s a tough one - I’ve been rejecting quite a few people on Facebook as they are either people I don’t know, or people I don’t feel comfortable enough with to not swear, etc. Oh and then there are the people I don’t like in real life, so I don’t see why I would add them on Facebook.

I think Flickr is a little bit different as you can follow someone (or they can follow you) without the implication of a reciprocation - I follow quite a few people that I don’t expect to add me back again.

Linkedin - meh. Seems to be a tool to see who can add the most people, so many people in my network have 300+ people so it seems to be a tool where you can meet someone and add them. Not too sure of the value of that one yet.


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 11.07 am


Some people aren’t very selective about who they link to as a friend.  Look at MySpace’s founder for example!  I, however, am rather picky.

To be added to my Facebook page as a friend, you will have met me face-to-face and we will have had several meaningful, interesting conversations on a range of topics.  As a result, most of my online friends are people I met at work, conferences and seminars.


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 12.07 pm


We were just talking about this the other day. I have a brother who is 7 years younger, his def of a friend is completely different than mine. It shows when you look at his myspace or facebook and how many are listed. Most of which probably wouldn’t even be acquaintances with me.


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 01.18 pm

Samantha Warren

This topic has been coming up a lot recently in conversation both in my personal life and at work… the internet is adding a whole new dynamic to the levels of personal relationships.


Tue Aug 14, 2007 at 01.20 pm

M. Jackson Wilkinson

I feel the opposite of Cheryl with respect to Facebook vs. LinkedIn.  I use Facebook as my catch-all service, where if I’ve met you and don’t think you’re a total jerk, I’ll add you or accept your request.  I’ve got about 800 friends on there, and the general rule is anyone I’d feel comfortable having a drink with.  I use Facebook as my address book, more or less, and if you’re not a friend of mine on Facebook, there’s a chance I won’t know how to reach you.

Granted, I’ve been on Facebook a long time, and initially it was a novelty to find someone you know (from another school) on there, so you added him or her instantly.  That may have shaped the experience of me and those who started using it around the time I did.

On LinkedIn, I’m more conservative.  It’s someone I know from some sort of work-related activity, who I think does a good job or who I’d be interested in working with in the future.

On Twitter, it needs to be a web-oriented person I’ve had some level of interaction with, a personal friend, or someone from my area.  If they have 1200 friends and 80 followers, I’m not going to reciprocate.


Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 01.32 am


I approve those whom I know personally or through some reference. However, I will make an exception if we have some interests in common or (s)he belongs to a field that attracts me. At the same time, a good designer/coder/person deserves to be there in my social circle. If we are not friends, we can be.


Thu Aug 16, 2007 at 10.53 am

Ian Lloyd

If I know the person asking to be added, I’ll add them (although I may wrangle over whether they are friends or contacts and what have you). But if it’s LinkedIn, I only add people whose work or reputation I can vouch for, so people I know socially may not get added. That’s a tricky one.


Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 04.31 am

Dave W

Great topic! Especially having attended BarCampBlock Palo Alto this weekend.  It’s quite interesting the conversations people had about facebook and adding people who you’ve literally met once. This morning I traded email addresses with one guy and I jokingly promised him that I wouldn’t add him to my facebook. That sparked a conversation about how overnight I’d added several people who quite frankly I don’t know. And worse I woke up this morning with a news feed of all the facebook applications they’d installed and removed. Like I care??

That said the one person I met who I’d actually love to get to know more is Asian and female.  She was one of the few people I met that has similar interests in 3D graphics, virtual worlds, etc and is doing a masters in graphics. And while I’d love to get her opinion on some projects I’m working on, or could even help her get a job once she graduates, the probability of her contacting me is about zero. And who can blame her lol.

In terms of LinkedIn vs other sites.  On LinkedIn it seems like everyone, in any company I’ve ever worked at wants to connect even though I’ve never even met them. They’ve typically worked in a different office or joined companies after I left. Why would I add them? Why? Right now I have my linkedin profile set to “Kitty Sitting”.  Based on the people that gave me recommendations on my kitty sitting skills I know who my real friends are.

FWIW I also don’t know you but I added you as a contact in Flickr back in April. For the life of me was trying to remember why I added you. It was because of your photo of you with the Free Hugs jacket and beanie. So, I guess, the level for being on my flickr list is you made me smile and anyone that goes on a Jack Daniels Distillery Tour is cool by me! ;)  But I certainly wouldn’t expect you to add me as a contact unless you like looking at hundreds of photos of cats lol.

The funniest feature of all the social sites these days is they all offer to parse your contact lists from gmail, hotmail, etc and invite people to join your social network.  That means anyone that you happened to email *once* will get an invite. When I signed up for facebook I missed the fact that it included the owner of the gym I go to. He accepted. Now we are “friends”. Do you think he’d be hurt if I deleted him? :P


Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08.24 pm


hi! i just looked you up on my networks. haha. here’s just one cent on my thoughts (considering i am an online social network addict, i have them all… ) - it’s only one cent because i could probably write a novel on this topic. there will always be people on the fray- ones who only accept their close friends, and others who accept everyone and every thing. behind it all, however, i feel the norm culture for a social network boils down to one word: approval.

as i see it, if i like someone- if i approve of their character, they are allowed to enter my online network.

(1) if they are my close friends, (already approved)
(2) if i know them in real life, (vaguely approved)
(3) i met them once or twice and enjoyed their company, (might approve)
(4) if i think i will like them if i were to meet them in real life (likely to approve)
(5) a potential professional relationship. (potential approval)
(6) if i am moving to a new city, and anticipating the need to make friends in a new environment, (hah, role reversal- i need approval)

the people in my network depends on which network it is. for example:

> myspace- my useless network account. it exists only because of the number of people i already know on it who don’t have facebook. it has nothing but my shameless plugs of music samples. if anything, the only requirements for are i know you, i agree with your political views, or the band you added me with is actually not bad.
> linkedin- i include everyone i know or have met personally.
> facebook- my real network. all my friends tell the truth on here and update their profiles with relevant information.

i could go on…

in the end, the people in the network you build depends on what you make of it. online or not- they all accomplish the same goal. i could go to any major city in the US and simply log onto my Facebook to find someone i know there. that is my real power of a social network. :)


Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 02.33 am


I make friends online who are either related to me, one way or another! Since i dont think online friendship is the only thing i am left to do with since mostly other people add me when they say you have a nice profile and bla bla bla… Who cares anyways i always have the reject option. Besides people of my interest that have a good music tate or are passionate about blogs and learning and to whome i believe an interaction can be helpful in the long run are in my buddy list.  and btw i am a Orkut ghetto and not too much into Facebook.


Thu Sep 20, 2007 at 08.49 pm


I think people are more strict in social networks than in professional networks. I see it for my own case: if I compare my LinkedIn account to my Facebook account, LinkedIn has 10x more connections. I think people want to boast with their professional connections, while they want to keep their personal space as small/compact/safe as possible.
Either that or I just don’t have a lot friends :-(


Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 03.46 pm


Nice topic. I know what you mean and originally felt the same way. But over time I’ve actually found some of the strangers following my twitters to be useful as a networking tool when I need visibility for a page or prioject. Other times I do find someone like yourself who shares similar interests to myself, then I follow them in Twitter. But I have to would agree with only allowing people I feel comfortable with in LinkedIn or Facebook.


Thu Feb 21, 2008 at 10.14 am

Karl Götseo

In the world of online social networks, the word “friend” is a lot less meaningful then friend. It includes your most casual of virtual acquaintances. Until you have a chance to build a certain level of trust with them, respect and affection, your interaction with your online friends will often be the digital equivalent of nodding at each other as you pass in the hall.


Constantly, trying to learn new things, and on the way I get to meet some amazing people with my camera by my side. XOXO!

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