[Air-l] From Social Isolation in America to Facebook

Alex Halavais halavais at gmail.com
Mon Sep 11 06:58:47 PDT 2006

On 9/10/06, Barry Wellman <wellman at chass.utoronto.ca> wrote:
> One problem with almost all social software is that it makes two
> false assumptions:
> (a) It assumes that relationships are dichotomous: Friend/Non-Friend.

Or that it is unidimensional. Tribe.net, I believe, orkut, and others
have tried to provide a bit more nuance here, at the encouragement of
the community. But adding gradations isn't enough. "Friend" in the
social networking systems parlance really covers a range of personal

Note that Flickr allows you to put people into a few different groups.

* "contact"
* "friend"
* "family"

I suspect that most systems consider "friend" to be "contact." I also
suspect that most people do not define "friends" the same way their
software does, though there is almost certainly "leakage" in
terminology. And, frankly, I think that these kinds of issues are
leading to everyday elaboration of such gradations (viz BFFL, friends
with benefits, and other neologisms).

What I find most interesting about the Flickr case is that you can
mark photographs appropriate for "friends" or "family" or both. Just
because I want my friends to see a photo doesn't mean that I want my
Mom to. To which the natural answer is "duh!" But many systems that
allow for gradations in "friendliness" assume that you want to reveal
the most to your closest friends/family, when that may not be the case
at all. Spring break in Mexico is not for Moms, and in many cases is
not for SOs or even close friends.

> (b) It assumes that friends all belong to the same group.

It certainly seems to clump them together that way. But I would argue
that many social networking systems have at least the implicit
objective (inasmuch as they seem to have an objective at all), of
performing the function of linking up your network of friends. Systems
like LinkedIn, especially, seem to be keyed directly to making
introductions within your network, but that is a major function of
most of these systems.

I've suggested elsewhere that these systems (blogs too) are moving us
*away* from networked sociability as they tend to aggregate our
relationships in a way that feels much more like a constrained
physical/geographical community. My "contacts" at work, and in my home
town, and in my hobby club, and at school are now much more likely to
know each other through my blog or through my social networking system
than they would have been a few years ago.

- Alex

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// Alexander C. Halavais
// Social Architect
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