Had a nice chat with Alex today, wandering through the streets of Soho, and I got hit by a tiny bit of bird poo enlightenment:
What has been bugging me all along with this social software crap (Facebook, Friendster (RIP), Jaiku, etc) is the way how they shove a person at you, and smash you in the face with the hard question "ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH THIS PERSON? YES/NO". How do you answer that? "Yes, I think this person is likeable, but really, I have met him twice, and we never really talked, so I couldn't really call him a friend, but then again, he is okay and he knows some of my friends, so I wouldn't like to upset him either..."
But oh no, it's just "I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU MEAN. PLEASE RESPOND EITHER YES OR NO."
Almost like playing a text adventure from the early 80s with a twenty-word vocabulary. There's just no room to express the finer points of friendship: it's either on or off.
But what hit me today was that it is really a vocabulary issue. What is really being asked is "Do you think it is okay for this person to participate in this portion of your life?" Accepting a "friendship" on Facebook is just like having a reader sign up for your blog feed, except that you have to manually approve these people, they are not anonymous, and it's reciprocal instead of one-way communication.
So, what Facebook calls "a friend" is what a blog calls "a reader". And once I wrapped my brain around that, I suddenly saw there was no problem whatsoever. I have my friends (and most of them are NOT on Facebook, Jaiku, Twitter, or any other service). And I have these "Facebook friends", for which there should be a better word. Reader? Nah, not interactive enough. Contact? Nah, sounds like work. But logically, these two are different concepts. People who read my blogs are not necessarily my friends, nor do my friends necessarily read this blog.
Participant? Yeah, I like that, though it's a bit too general. Because that's what online presence really is: it's a participatory hallucination, which at best, can give a very good impression of reality. But as so many bloggers are wont to say: "this is not my real life." True. We all have sides which we expose through different channels, and usually choose what we wish to show to different people, all of whom participate in aspects of what we call "our life". So social software is just another channel, althought with a badly chosen vocabulary.
(However, I would still like to see another word for these "Facebook friends".)
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