Image by luc legay via Flickr
Last weekend I spent the weekend with a bunch of old friends playing games, chatting, cooking, chasing children... and I didn't open my computer for three days. We didn't even spend much time talking shop since few of us work in the same industry. It was a refreshing and much needed break from my day-to-day existence and it got me thinking about my various tribes. At one level, the 30+ people I spent the weekend with are not my closest friends - I see most of them once a year and I don't interact with them that frequently in between. They are however old friends of my husband's and because we all stay in each others' homes when we get together, there is a level of intimacy that I will never have with many others with whom I interact on a daily or weekly basis.
Contrast those friends with my Twitter crowd - people with whom I share some common interests and with whom I chat very frequently but most of whom I will never meet. For a long time, my online life has been mostly separated from my 'real' life. My old friends and family are only marginally aware that I have a rich online existence - despite how easy it is to find.
Facebook is changing all of that and making me think about how and when I would like all of my worlds to collide. I have a couple of groups on Facebook but that seems insufficient because essentially it just limits what one group can see. Instead of segregating types of content (status updates, photos, etc.) I would rather segregate the topic of the content - i.e. some groups can see my family photos and other groups get my work photos - but that is not how Facebook's privacy settings work.
Now that my closest friends are on Facebook - along with ex-colleagues, online friends, childhood classmates, cousins, etc. - I'm struggling. I'm often tempted to be a bit snarky about something (which my friends would appropriately understand as humor) but I know that people who don't know me that well wouldn't understand or would take it the wrong way...and maybe I shouldn't be snarky in the first place but it's something close friends often do. And as much as I'm a fan of transparency, part of being intimate with someone is sharing thoughts and perspectives that you wouldn't share with a bigger audience. Now, clearly you don't need to share in that way online at all and I don't...but as more intimate friends start coming online, the temptation is there but the privacy is not.
The other question that remains un-answered is how a connection gets 'promoted' to a friend and vise versa. It's the same quesiton of "How do you breakup online?" Different people will find different solutions to that and I am interested is seeing what choices people make that will collectively create some standard social expectations.
Relationships are going through one of the most dramatic changes ever because of social software - instead of leaving things ambiguous between people we have to articulate a relationship and that is emotionally risky. One example is an old school classmate who while well-intentioned and friendly was emotionally needy, someone who could only speak at someone rather then with them, and was a time suck. Offline it is easy enough to fall out of contact and we had. Facebook allowed her to reconnect. Four years and a number of un-answered emails was not enough to deter her from it. And while 'ignore' on Facebook is an option, it makes it explicit rather than implicit and that is hurtful.
So, I end up ignoring very few requests but I also send out very few requests. I'm not actually tempted to connect with everyone that I could - I find the explicit connecting akward. I like the Twitter model much better - I can follow or unfollow someone at will and they never have to explicitly acknowledge me or grant me 'permission' to follow, except for those with private streams. To me, it is much more natural - the way our ears perk up a bit when someone we find interesting enters a room.
How do you navigate your online connections? Do you reserve some sites for certain groups (i.e. LinkedIn for work contacts)? Do you request a lot of connections? Do you ignore a lot of requests?