Steve Rubel had an interesting post a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been holding onto to consider. He postulates that the Web Changes How We Define Friendships. Steve makes some compelling points about the drive towards quantity versus quality when you start participating in social networks.
I have a different theory. I believe that social networks are not changing the way we define friends. Our close friends are the ones for whom we never needed social networking tools in the first place. Our friends are the ones who know who we are, have been to our homes, and who have refrigerator privileges*.
What social networks see to be able to do is help us better track our acquaintances. I think there is a stigma attached to the word acquaintance. We think of acquaintances as cool relationships. Distant relationships that mean little. In fact, they mean a lot.
I have acquaintances who I greet warmly whenever I see them or correspond with them. I don’t know them intimately, but I know them well enough to want to know how they are doing and what they are up to.
Perhaps social networks will change our definition of friendship, but if they do, it will because we were never comfortable with the word acquaintance and because word acquaintance is too long to fit nicely into our common language and UI designs.
* Refrigerator privileges is an idea I read about in Never Eat Alone defining the friendships that you have where the person feels free to raid your refrigerator. The idea in the book is that we need more friends with refrigerator privileges. I couldn’t agree more.