Hooray, stream of consciousness time.
One of the things that has constantly bothered me about social networks, and made me take pause as I interact with them, is the exclusive, unchangeable use of the word “friend” to describe the relationship you are about to enter into with others.
I actually have a queue of friend requests stagnating at each and every social networking site I belong to because I just don’t feel like I’m “friends” with these individuals. And I feel guilty, because even though I know that the web wants me to accept a very broad definition of what a friend is, I cannot help but resist. They’re acquaintances, cool people, etc., but not really friends. Our interactions are amicable, but not at the “friend” level. Admittedly, that’s my own assessment. I feel bad for leaving people hanging, like I am rejecting them. If a different word was used in place of or in addition to “friend”, my networks might be more inclusive.
Seriously, am I the only one that has this inner dialogue every time a friend request comes in?
The best part is that I often break my own rules, sending friend requests to people I am only tangentially related to. I waffle. Consistency FAIL. (Sorry if I’m plunging you guys into the same quandary.)
Some networks scratch this itch for me. Linkedin works best for my mind; it’s more diplomatic, probably because it is slanted towards professional relationships. Instead of trying to classify the relationship within the act of connecting, Linkedin simply phrases it as “Add Joe Dotcom to your network”. Only after entering the linking process does Linkedin classify your relationship with that person (a very nice feature). And after that, everyone is a “contact”. I like the openness of that word.
Twitter is also Jared-friendly, simply referring to everyone as “followers”. A nice, unassuming relationship identifier which also happens to be pretty exclusive to the Twitter brand. Double win.
Flickr lets me assign a person as a Contact, Friend, or Family, each with increasing levels of access to my content. And, like Linkedin, people you add are generically referred to as “Contacts” thereafter. Very nice.
Maybe the aversion to the mandatory “friends” label in this context is generational? Maybe “friend” is the new “contact”? I mean, I get it. “Friend” is simple, open to interpretation and bubbling with the friendly web 2.0 goodness that all the kids are crazy about these days. Everyone’s jumping on the “friend” bandwagon.
Still, it just bugs me. It bugs me to have a queue of real people in a holding pattern because my social networks let me have friends or nothing at all. I guess my point is that “friend” seems like too personal a term for the kinds of relationships most of us have with each other online.
How do you decide to friend someone?