My social network connection policy and that “friend” thing

The whole relationship spectrum in social networks is something that bugs me more than a little.

I live with it, as I’ve no choice if I want to use these tools, but most networks don’t adequately express the range of associations we have with people. The nuances of relationship that we express on a daily basis with people we work, play and live with aren’t nearly adequately expressed online. Something like the XFN microformat has more nuance, although not nearly enough. There needs to be more.

So, on Facebook, which is a pretty complex social network, you’re either my friend, or not. Nowhere near enough. I need (and want) to be able to express whether we’ve met, worked together, share interests, or are real-life friends and probably a bunch of other variants. I can sort of do this with groups, but it still feels inadequate.

LinkedIn is a slightly different story. The focus there is very different, and they have come a long way in terms of helping you to understand your own linkages, but not in helping others understand your linkages. So, for example, if someone wants to know how I know Andrew and Matthew, they need to do a little trawling. Again, inadequate to my thinking.

I want the expression of my relationships on complex social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to be outward-facing, so that anyone who can see my social graph on these networks can also see adequately expressed nuance in those relationships. Are you a real-life friend, a colleague, a professional peer, my boss, my wife, my daughter, someone I went to school with?

Something like Twitter, on the other hand, is very simple. It’s largely a crowded room full of conversation – either I follow you, or I don’t, and the same goes for you and your crowd. I think for Twitter, that’s enough. YMMV.

So, to the real point of this post, how, when and why I might connect to you on a social network. Others have done similar pieces. I’m a particular fan of Shel Israel’s Twitter and Facebook policies. My policies are loosely based on his. So, here goes.

  1. If I don’t know who you are, I’m unlikely to connect to you. If we don’t know each other, please accompany your request with a short note explaining why you are trying to connect. If your explanation makes sense, I’ll probably connect. My email address is very public, so this shouldn’t be hard to do.
  2. If you are a brand, marketing flack, or company, I’m unlikely to connect with you. There are exceptions, but they are few.
  3. If you know several of my friends or colleagues, I’ll probably connect to you. I’ll check with them first, and I’d still like a note from you, but your chances are pretty good.
  4. If I know your work, blog or community I’ll probably connect to you. Again, a little explanation goes a long way, as do mutual connections.

Simple enough, I’d say.

4 Replies to “My social network connection policy and that “friend” thing”

  1. Nice post Steve. I’m the same.

    I also add 5) If I don’t know someone, and I can be bothered, I might check their site out. If it is interesting I might hook up with them.

    I’m also interested to see how the outwardly facing network would look? Is it something to be added to FB or LI? Like a tricked up friend wheel? Perhaps it is a new social network site altogether?

    Trouble with Twitter is that I find it hard to see who you know and the pics are so small you can hardly see the person, if they use an Avatar you can’t work out who it is. If they have interesting tweets and are not following millions of people I might hook.


  2. Originally I took a similar approach, but after reading this Scoble post I started to take a very different approach on twitter, following just about anyone who posted something vaguely interesting. I’m now using different social networks in very different ways. I’m still only adding people I know (well) to Facebook, partly because I use it to share photos of family and friends that I don’t necessarily want out in the public domain. I take a similar approach with LinkedIn, but also include work colleagues and acquaintances. In that case the reasoning is different: I’m trying to see how effectively it works as the professional network it aims to be. Adopting the more promiscuous following approach on twitter means that it serves a very different role for me than, say, Facebook (although I do have my tweets set to update my Facebook status): I can’t possibly read every tweet and so it’s a constant stream on content that I can dip in and out of, looking for interesting ideas and links as well as the occasional chat. I’ve started taking the same inclusive approach on Pownce, although it has the added advantage of being able to group your friends into “Sets”, such as “Real World”, “Online”, etc. The interesting thing about these networks is that the way you use them depends not only in the functionality of each site, but on the approach you take to the connections you make.

  3. I agree on both of the major points in the post…

    (1) I’ll only “friend” you on one of those social networks if I’ve met you (in person, or on the phone)

    (2) There is something missing in the edge labeling of these networks that makes the question of whether or not to add someone to your list a bit more complicated.

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