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Friends are Hard to Define

I’ve been randomly taking a look at Facebook’s “People you may know” feature over the last week or however long it’s been available. It occurs to me today that this feature is actually a perfect example of the limits of the “friend” definition on Facebook and other social networking services.

Here’s an example. I have some friends on Facebook, and also MySpace, who I only know through one of my websites. For the sake of example, let’s look at my fellow Friends in Tech members, very few of whom I’ve met, and who live in pretty diverse geographical areas. Between all of us, we’re spread pretty much all over the country, but we also interact fairly regularly online and are friends in that sense, so many of the FiT members are also connected on social networks like Facebook. That’s to be expected.

The problem comes in when you consider that to Facebook, any friend is a friend in the same sense. It pulls the “people you may know” group from your friend’s contacts. Just because they know someone who I also know, doesn’t mean I know them, and in the Internet age, where I’m interacting with folks from all over the world, let alone the US, the chances that they have many, many friends that I know nothing at all about, increases dramatically.

I’ve got people on my friends lists who I’ve worked with in the past or people who my wife works with, who are mostly local to us. I’ve got people on my lists who are regular readers of this blog, and people who are regular readers of my child abuse blog. I have folks I met at a legal conference, and people I’ve known from my years in IT. Do you think those groups of people would know each other just by virtue of knowing me? I may be a link between them, but I’m a tenuous link at best.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could better define our friends and this matching feature actually took that data into account when suggesting people we might know? Instead of being presented with a list of people who are local to someone I only know online, wouldn’t it be better to see only the other online friends that person has, and vice versa for people I know and see in real life on a regular basis?

I think that’d be a whole lot more useful than what I’m seeing at Facebook right now, and I’m hopeful that someone over there will take a really hard look at using the Friend List feature, and someone at Myspace is taking a long look at using the friend groups feature to help push this further along that path. Is anyone listening?

Technorati Tags: Facebook, MySpace. SocialNetworks

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