How many friends do you have on Facebook? Do all your friends write on your wall, comment on your photos, like your status and invite you to an event? I know that I have maybe maximum 25 friends who do this on profile on a regular basis. Perhaps there’s another 25 friends that would write me from time to time and message me but, to be quite honest, half of my Facebook friends are people I went to high school with, who I don’t speak to again, my friend’s friend’s friend that I met that one time, and even teachers and my parents’ friends. The definition of ‘friendship’ changed as online social networks began to flourish and increase in number in the 2000s. Numerous forms of social networks emerged – fromFriendster, MySpace and Six Degrees, to today’s Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. In her study “Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community into being on Social Network Sites”, written in 2006, danah boyd explores the phenomenon of “Friending”, focusing on Friendster and MySpace, the two big social networks of the time. boyd challenges the assumption that online friends must be offline friends and explore the meaning of ‘friendship’ and what it means online.
Six years have passed since boyd’s research and has the definition of online and offline Friendship changed? First, borrowing from boyd attempt to illustrate what constitutes a friend and the meaning of friendship, she states: “for many, the category of a friend carries an aura of exclusivity and intimacy unlike the categories acquaintances or contact, which suggest familiarity but not closeness”. The line that separates friends from acquaintances is blurry, but at least in mind, an acquaintance is someone you are familiar with, have met even once, or at least someone you have heard of. But in the 13 most common reasons why people Friend each other on social networks that boyd presents, most of the reasons were to collect and connect to more Friends rather than because people actually knew each other in anyway offline. In the earlier days of social media, as boyd illustrates, the online Friendship wasn’t taken as seriously. So people were friending random people with interesting profiles to be opened up to a larger network of people and to show off their number of friends on their profile.
Is this still true today on Facebook and other social media platforms today? Not quite. With the introduction of the new online relationship concept, Following and Followers, I think the perception on what boyd calls connecting and collecting has changed completely. I think in an era where people are buying Twitter Followers for money, the notion of connecting and collecting Friends have moved to the uni-directional social network platforms where anyone can simply follow you and have access to your profile. Also, as the article above shows, having more followers seemingly suggests that you have more influence and impact on whatever online scene you are involved with. If Facebook has become a place for a more private and personalized network, platforms such as YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and other numerous blogs out there, have become a platform where it’s more socially acceptable to follow strangers with more interesting content on their blogs, twitters and YouTube channels. In an era where people (frequently) lose their jobs due to their Facebook status updates and comments, people have moved on from simply Friending anyone and letting people have access to their posts. I’d say that platforms like Facebook have become more private and the networks between people are smaller. The social norms of Facebook and Twitter are different, and collecting and connecting has moved on to a new platform of social media where it is accepted to collect and connect with a bigger network.
The way how people connect to the larger network has changed with new forms of social media, but how people use social media to present themselves hasn’t changed much. boyd writes that people “display social connections to reveal information about who they are”. Social media allows people to “articulate and publicly display their relations to others in the system” and for those users who fall under the category of Collectors, it is important to seem interesting enough that people will follow you. Not only does presenting oneself matterr in terms of getting more followers and gaining influence in the online communitiy, online self-presentation now opens up new career opoportunities and sources of income. Today, popular bloggers and YouTube personalities (vloggers) are now getting sponsored from companies and brands so that their product can reach more customers via product placement on vlogs. Presentation of oneself online has moved on beyond just changing your profile picture and choosing who your Top Friends are. This article goes through the steps of hunting jobs online, mainly utilizing LinkedIn, but also how to tweet and Facebook your way into the job force. Because now “resumes are not enough”, people have turned to “web branding”, doing self-PR online. Maybe you can seperate your online identities from professional to casual, but in both worlds, self-presentation and network of your connections is important. You must seem interesting, first of all, on your profile so that you can be followed and you should be followed or be friends with other seemingly interesting people to increase your potential as a worthy enough social network user.