In 2006, Danah Boyd wrote an article on her study of the concept of “Friending” in “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites.” Boyd focuses on two up and coming social networks of 2006: Friendster and Myspace. She explains that social media has created a difference between Friendship (virtual) and friendship (physical), “Friendster expected that these users would list their actual friends but this was not the norm that took hold among early adopters.” At the time that Boyd published the article, social media was a new and unique concept that was still being explored in various forms by users. Meeting strangers online was new and exciting prior to the skepticism that followed with the expansion of social media. “Friending” strangers had become dangerous and led to numerous controversies ranging from kidnapping to Taliban spies invading Australian troops, which are still being addressed today.
With the introduction of social media to society, a new form of social discourse had to be instated, ‘online etiquette’ so to speak. Based on her studies Boyd notes that,
“Saying no to someone can be tricky so some prefer to accept Friendship with someone they barely know rather than going through the socially awkward process of rejecting them.”
While this etiquette morphs with every Facebook layout update, users are still aware of who their friends are and what they choose to share with them. Thus, social media networks attempt to help users personalize their friends by organizing them into lists (friends, family, co-workers) in order to control what can and can’t be viewed by these particular groups. This notion of context collapse was brought up by Joshua Meyrowitz in his 1985 discourse No Sense of Place where he discusses the significance of having the opportunity to share his experiences of a summer vacation in Europe with three different audiences with whom he was able to share different aspects of his trip. Meyrowitz’s parents heard about the
“safe and clean hotels in which [he] stayed and about how the trip made [him] less of a picky eater,” his friends heard about “an account filled with danger, adventure and a little romance,” while his professors heard about his “visits to museums, cathedrals, [and] historical sites.” (1)
Had he been forced into a welcome home party with all three groups joined together, he would not have been able to impress each group because he would need to have avoided sharing certain details with certain people.
Repurposing friend lists is an example of the social construction of technology that was re-appropriated to immerse users into social media further. If once we were concerned with accessing Facebook too often and posting too much because the ‘wrong’ friend would see, we are now able to customize who sees what and when. Boyd touches on the aspect of the number of Friends users have calling those with thousands of friends ‘collectors.’ At the time the article was written, there was
“no distinction between siblings, lovers, schoolmates, and strangers. They [were] all lumped under one category: Friends.” (Boyd)
Boyd develops her study by attempting to understand the reasoning behind Friending.
“Taking advantage of the technological affordances, early adopters used the site to meet their needs. In turn, because of the networked structure of Friendster, they passed on their norms to their friends. Their Profiles signaled what type of people belonged and their communication practices conveyed what types of behavior one could expect.”
Early adapters of social networks like Friendster and MySpace used the sites to grow in popularity, to be friends with celebrities (even if their accounts were fake or run by managers) or to be affiliated with a brand. While users of social networks today continue to Friend for similar purposes, Steve Ranger explains that Friending has become a significant aspect of the workplace environment. In his article, “Like me! Like me! Doing business in the Facebook age,” Ranger explains that,
“it seems that in business, people are far more comfortable collecting contacts in social media, even ones they don’t know very well, in case they become useful later on. There’s even the so-called LinkedIn Open Networkers group, who will connect with pretty much anyone to extend the reach of that network.”
While the want to have larger online social circles hasn’t subsided, the purpose of these circles has. Ranger believes that Friending in the workplace brings to light “power relationships that exist invisibly in every workplace,” which can be beneficial in recognizing an employee’s worth to a company. Furthermore, he discusses websites such as Chatter that position themselves as helping you “get to know your colleagues, see how influential they are, and see if they’re online right now. Find and follow peers and experts to expand your network.” Ranger explains that the purpose of tools like Chatter allow for more efficient organization and facilitate vital qualities like “building your own brand – maintaining a profile, building influence” which are soon to be a “key part of the day job, regardless of what industry you are in.”
What started out as a fight with your “bestest friend” about who was first on her “Top 8” (Boyd) has led to the difference between being the “bright junior exec” with “senior managers following her updates” and the “ineffectual manager” finding “few people ‘friending’ him” on Facebook. (Ranger)