Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On Friend Surfing

Within the last few weeks, I've become aware of a new behavior that I'm not sure about. When receiving friend and event invitations via services such as Facebook and Twitter, I respond, and then I do something else.

What else do I do? I see who else the person who sent the invitation is friends with. I don't do this as a way to gauge whether the person is worth befriending -- I don't judge people based on their social networks. What I do do is see who I should already be friends with. Case in point: Today I received an event invitation from Amit via Facebook, and after declining -- I just can't do it -- I checked out who else had yet to respond. I found at least three people who I already know -- and to whom I'm already connected via other social networking services. So I asked them to be my friends in Facebook, too.

This isn't aspirational. I already know and am already connected to the people. It's playing catchup. These are people I could be, should be, already connected to in this service, as well. And the experience makes me think several things.

1. While I appreciate and sometimes use the Import Your Address Book feature in order to see who in my Gmail I want to add to a new social network service, such imports aren't enough. They're overly broad and intrusive, that address book might not be the best source on which to draw, and it's a hassle to go through and deselect the people I don't want to add.

2. I'm lazy. I don't take the time to import existing address books, and I don't take the time to see whether people I know are already involved. I wait for them to find me. Or I wait for our mutual friends to find them for me. Does this mean I don't want to add them? Hardly. It just means that it's too difficult.

3. We need a unified way to maintain friendslists, and an easy way by which we can add them to new social network services. We need to be able to export friendslists, import friendslists, and otherwise replicate existing relationship sets in new tools.

4. FOAF needs to accelerate. If existing ways to do what I've just expressed are to succeed, they need to move far forward, and fast. We need a friendslist standard that can be exported, imported, edited, updated across multiple services, and so on. Until that happens, we'll be wasting our time in increments.

If I'm missing out, if what I want to do already exists, please school me. Because otherwise, I feel like I'm spending my time unwisely, I feel like I'm not interacting with folks in all of the ways I could, and I feel somewhat like a bounty hunter -- a bottom feeder.

What's up with that?

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