I’ve read a number of stories and posts recently about the evolving definition of “friends” online, with the proliferation of social networks and tools that facilitate (if not require) building a network of personal friends. As Steve Rubel points out, the race by some to accumulate friends with no screeing or criteria has altered – and possibly devalued – the meaning of friendship. Maybe the answer is to enforce more screening – like Facebook – and to stay away from the MySpace model, which opens the door to virtually anybody, resulting in a flood of spam and weirdos.
While I concede that many of the folks on my Linked-In or Facebook accounts are not all friends per se – folks that I regularly stay in touch with and share some level of intimacy with – they are legitimate acquiantances or professional contacts. And the networks make it much easier for me to find these folks (in some cases after years or being out of touch) and communicate with them. They are an instantly accessible extended personal network that can provide wisdom, support, leads and/or ideas. And yes, it can also just be fun to share where we’ve lived or answer group questions. So despite the huge potential for abuse, I find these friend networks to be a very positive development. It will be interesting to track if and how I stay in touch with my new expanding online family.