I have been thinking a lot about friends lately and the real value of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo etc. I came across an excellent (if long) presentation on slideshare by Paul Adams of the User Experience team at Google. It looks at relationships (friendships) and the differences between the way your online social networks (such as facebook) work and your real life social relationships and how they influence each other.
Online, people are either your friends or they are not. There is some filtering at a very high level, Plaxo and LinkedIn for example are typically limited to business acquaintances not personal friends, but beyond that everyone is treated the same, from your best buddy to the guy you met yesterday. To paraphrase that wise TV philosopher Theo Kojak, “(online) Who love’s ya baby?” the answer is all your online friends. He uses the analogy of the time and trouble folks take on planning the seating at a wedding in real life and yet how on a social network they are all just lumped together.
Paul provides a view of your offline relationships that can be segmented by groups of people (family, college, neighbours, activities etc. (most people have 4 to 6 major groups)) and the strength of the relationship (strong (4 to 5 relationships), weak (up to 150 relationships) and temporary) and how they influence your decisions. As he points out,
Social Networking is a means to an end.
You need to understand what the end is.
So what does this mean? I think there really is a need to be able to segment friends on social networks to better reflect how life really works. Until then, I for one will continue to be just a casual user of facebook (social networks). As always comments welcome.