Who ARE you people?!

I continue to dip in and out of the current crop of social networking.. umm.. websites … applications? … ummm webapps.. or however the hell they are collectively known (I’m desperately trying NOT to use the “Web 2.0” tag here).

None of them have particularly stuck with me, at least not yet, and they all share one common theme. They all have their own little quirks and frustrations. One of which seems to be a common amongst most of them, although it’s demonstrated in different forms. I guess it might just be me, being the common point here, but ultimately my annoyance boils down to one thing, over and over again.

I don’t know who anyone is.

And yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. Get over it.

I have a tendency to sign up to most ‘new’ things, even if it’s just to have a nosey around.. ohh ok, it’s purely so that I can snag the username “snowgoon”. Still. Sad, isn’t it.

However the annoyance comes when you start using these sites, and start getting other people “adding” you, or requesting that you add them to your network. Which, considering these sites are built for just such social networking, makes sense. But there is an inherent problem, and I’m sure by now you’ve all guessed what it is.. that’s right. I may know you from a blog, but that doesn’t mean I know your real name, and sometimes it’s vice versa (as in, I know the name but don’t recognise the ‘nickname’).

Considering these applications (Facebook, Twitter etc etc) are all almost entirely focussed on leveraging online communities, they all seem to miss two basic assumptions.

Assumption 1: I might not know the name, or nickname, of the person who wants to add me as their friend.

Suggestion: As well as the nickname, provide the real name of the person, and possibly a URL if they have provided one. Chances are I’ll recognise one of them.

I realise that finding the sweet spot for this approach is tricky, too much information and people will just get pissed off, too little and it’s useless. But I think providing a “little too much” information is better than providing “not quite enough”.

But it might just be me.

Assumption 2: The level of friendship seems a little odd.

Flickr, I think, gets this right. There you can have contacts, contacts who are friends, and contacts who are family. Ultimately that means I can have a long list of contacts, with subsets of those being friends and family. Most of the people who read this blog and who have a Flickr account are listed in my Flickr account as a contact.

Now, you could easily argue that Flickr’s contact listing options are a bit too minimalistic. But maybe that’s a good thing…

Compare this to Facebook which bombards you with choices, but still misses one main aspect. One aspect which seems stunningly obvious. One aspect which means I can’t see me using it all that often.

Apparently I can’t have ‘online friends’. Which means that, dearest reader, whilst I can add you as a generic contact in Facebook, I can’t specifically say that you are a “blog friend” or “online contact” etc etc. Apparently our relationship doesn’t matter unless it has been made physical in some way (ohh errr). If I used to work with you, if I met you at a party, if we had a shagged, they are all covered in the default options. OK, maybe not the last one.

And this is my problem with these sites. They don’t seem to value the relationships that can be built online. I consider several people —in fact now that I think about it, it’s more like 20… or more—whom I have never met but have swapped emails, IMs, and blog comments with, my friends. The obvious caveats apply, but ultimately I value the relationships I’ve built online.

Forgive me if the current batch of social networking websites don’t quite float my boat, but they just don’t share my values.

Now, if I could rate my contacts using a simple star system, well that’d be much better.

So, is it just me? Do you draw a distinct line between online and “real” friends? Or, like me, do you think it’s possible to have, and maintain, both?

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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It depends on the context. For example, I use Flickr with my nom de plume, graybo. I blog (at least on grayblog) using that name. I use AIM, Hotmail and a bunch of other sites with that name. But, for LinkedIn and a couple of other places (included my business blog), I use my real name. And I don’t use my real name (or my company name) on my personal places. That’s because I want to try to keep a professional and a personal identity, both of which are separate.

However, for the purposes of finding me, it would sometimes be useful if a select group of professional contacts and a similar select group of personal contacts could cross the boundary (I feel a Venn diagram coming on).

Perhaps the best way for you to find out who people are is to email them. If someone personal wanted to find my professional (real) identity, and I thought I knew and trusted them enough to permit that, then I’d happily volunteer the information. (You’d fall into that category, old bean). So, if you want to know who I am on MSN or LinkedIn, just ask.

What I don’t want is a potential new client googling for my real name and finding my ramblings about cheese or pictures of my cats – it might not give the right impression.

Of course, as I’ve written on my blog, it might be useful to use blogging contacts in a few select circumstances, particularly to boost one’s number of links on LinkedIn so that one doesn’t look like a sad loner stuck on one’s own in a garden shed in the middle of rural Sussex.

I’m with you all the way on this. On Facebook, I’ve added people like this as “met randomly” and usually add something naff like “hey, the internet’s a small place”, but it’s a bit rich not to be able to have it as a way of meeting someone.

I don’t hide who I am online, per se, but I don’t advertise the fact to all and sundry. I connect with some friends, as much through the internet, as I do personally, such is the nature of life. I guess, it’s each to their own.

“if we shagged, they are all covered in the default options. OK, maybe not the last one.”

I kinda assumed “we hooked up” covered that on Facebook. But then I don’t really know what “hooked up” means so I assume the best/worst. Although it does seem a little odd to broadcast that your relationship with someone is based on a quick fuck.

Facebook’s problem in this regard is it grew out of US college campuses where you knew everyone through classes, clubs and dorms. No-one from outside your college would be on your Friends list. I’d imagine, as it matures, those options will be revised.

Flickr’s an interesting example of this. I use Flickr to meet good photographers, not for posting cameraphone snaps of my dog. So the Contacts / Friends / Family thing doesn’t work for me as most of my friends can’t take a good photo so I don’t want them clogging things up. Here some kind of ratings system would be good, though it’d have to be kept private I guess.

That said I do this using my RSS reader with folders for different degrees of awesomeness in photographer, so it’s not really necessary.

Finally (this should be a blog post of my own!) “friend” now has two meanings for me. There are my friends who are my friends and there are people who I have “friended” who mostly aren’t my friends, just people I know somehow online. I can function like this but it’s really weird using that kind of language with others.

Okay, one final thing. This is all about mapping granuarity, and I’m not sure it’s useful. The internet encourages a rapid change in priorities. For me your blog rises up and down on my “essential reading” chart. Sometimes it’s spot on relevant, sometimes I wonder why I read it. This is a GOOD THING but it does mean I can’t pidgeon hole you. The same goes for all the other blogs I read. I could spend an hour every day judging them and ranking them but that’d be pointless. Just because social networking services give us rubbish tools to map our relationships doesn’t mean we should use them. I think.

Thank you for your indulgence.

graybo – your situation holds true for many I guess, perhaps it’s me that is at odds with the system as I’m happy to merge my professional with my personal, if you don’t like one, tough!

Pete – yeah I know WHY Facebook has these limitations but that doesn’t explain why they haven’t been revised yet… a quick scan of the ages of those who joined in the last year would give an ‘indication’ of non-college usage.. surely.

As for the rise and fall of blog relevance, for me that’s a broad “daily” and “weekly” choice. I don’t actually READ all the daily ones every day but I do try.

Of course it’s a pain in the arse reorganising them so there are a few who should be… I dunno.. “monthly” but persist in the “daily” view because I’m a lazy fecker. That’s a different post though..

Forgive me if the current batch of social networking websites don’t quite float my boat, but they just don’t share my values.

Sometimes I wonder if some people have a life away from their computer chair…

I’m one of those who wants some separation from my online life and my real life especially my work life. Basically I don’t want the whole of my office knowing what I’m up to or thinking I like the semi anonymity that I have.

I flirted with MySpace for a short while and then gave up. The random people trying to make friends with me kind of gave me the creeps. Like you, I have a number of people I’ve “met” through my blog and exchange emails with, but probably will never actually meet in the flesh. I do consider them friends, but not in the same way as friends I actually know.

On the flipside to that, one of the girls I email suffers from severe depression and rarely sees anyone in “real life”, especially as she’s no longer able to work – I’d hate to get into the situation where “web friends” replace a social life proer. But without that, perhaps she would be even more isolated?

I kinda agree. I’m still not really liking the facebook thing. As predicted the majority of the activity seems to be more of, HEY will YOU be MY friend, and the nothing more other than people updating ther Susan is….. I focus most of my energy on emailing my true friends and updating my blog on my random thoughts and posting my pictures on flickr. Email, blog and flickr are my tools to communicate with my family back home in Canada. If I pick up a few random cyber friends along the way, that’s OK – but it’s not the focus of why I post what I do.

Totally agree.

Facebook needs better groupings.

But everyones groupings may very. I count you as a friend even though I have never met you.

Shit got to get off the train. Will finish this later.

I have a rule with Facebook-only people I know in real life can be my facebook friends. That’s it.

I don’t really see why Facebook doesn’t let you just choose your own relationship titles.

On Flickr, the general/friend/family groups have an actual purpose. It lets you filter and choose privacy settings for each group. As far as I can see, on Facebook the relationships are just labels in your contact list. They serve no real purpose.

I’m with Graybo on this – and it’s been the fuel for several dollops of introspection and d4d™ postings – of using Blog nom de plume for one set of things, and real name for business-based gubbins, so that I can keep the two seperate.

I even check on Google occasionally, to make sure that I’m not getting interlinkage between the two IDs. But it does make it very confusing on occasion.

For example, I’d love to do more to promote the photography portfolio site, but I can’t do that on D4D, or on any of the site where I’m registered as Lyle… Pain in the bum at that point, I have to say…

I’ve found it a bit weird on Facebook, because I’m there under my real name, but have friends straddling the blogland/real life divide (for me, there is a divide).

Blogfriends have put that they know me “through blogging” which makes me a little uncomfortable, because most of my real life friends don’t know about the blog. I don’t directly link to it from my Facebook profile.

It is rather annoying in a number of ways – like someone said, why do we have to pick our relationship from a list? And the “not writing on your own wall” etiquette is hard to get used to if you’re a blogger!

But personally, I am finding that I’m getting in touch with people I haven’t contacted for ages, so it does have positives.

Oh, and I’m only “Facebook” friends with people I’ve actually met, or know quite well in a blogging/chatting/emailing way…

Although Lyle, when I got contacted via your work name for the work I’m currently involved in, I had no idea who you were.

I do now though.

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