Friend Requests

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Social Networks have been around for a relatively long time (in Internet years). They continue to mushroom. One of the reasons is the constant Friend Requests (invitations) one receives when anyone they know discovers a new network/site.

I see the utility of some of these sites, but in the end, unless they are used sparingly, and with a specific goal in mind (LinkedIn for example), they can very quickly become time sucks, geometrically if you end up feeling the need to keep up on multiple sites.

After hearing the buzz about Facebook for years, I succumbed and joined in August 2007. I had two purposes:

  1. See if the experience was interesting and/or useful
  2. See how long it would take to get invites

To test #2, I decided to not invite anyone to be a friend of mine, even those people who introduced me to Facebook. I’ve been a member now for six months, and I have still not invited anyone. I only have 26 friends, so I haven’t been overwhelmed with Friend requests either.

The requests can be divided into four categories:

  1. Bulk uploads
  2. Word of mouth
  3. Friends of friends
  4. Strangers

After I joined Facebook, I started getting a few invitations from people I hadn’t heard from in years. In a few cases, the last contact might have even been a bit strained. It took me a bit to realize that in likely all of those cases, those people joined Facebook after I did, and they uploaded their contact data (from Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) to Facebook, and permitted the site to match any members it had the same email address for.

While I applaud the ease with which these sites make these connections possible, ultimately, I find it extremely lazy (and intrusive) on the part of the uploader, who is building a (phony) network quickly, rather than a quality network, more slowly or painfully. That’s one of the reasons that I have never taken advantage of this (not just on Facebook, but on the dozen or so other sites that I could have), even though my Outlook contact database is reasonably large.

Word of mouth has made for high quality connections (for me). This will usually come in the form of some casual conversation where someone will mention something about Facebook (or another network), and ask if I’m a member. After admitting that I am, I will often get a friend request the next day. Those have typically amounted to more real interaction/sharing after the initial connection than the bulk upload ones.

Friends of friends has also been reasonably satisfying (to me, personally). One of the nice touches in Facebook is the concept of a social graph, understanding how you are connected to others. When one word of mouth friend connects with me, often other people in our circle are already connected to my friend, and they instantly discover (in their feed) that I too am on Facebook, and they friend me. Once that happens, we all see our overlapping friends on each other’s profile.

Finally, strangers. Here is one extreme example. I am a member of Last.fm (which I’ve written about in the past). I have three friends there. A month or so ago, I received a friend request from a name I didn’t recognize. I looked at their profile, and it was (supposedly) from a 17-year-old female. Uh huh, I am exactly who she is looking to friend to share musical tastes.

After declining, I mentioned it jokingly to one of my three real friends on Last.fm, and he too got an invitation from the same person. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t really all that special after all… 😉

But, it’s not always spam, just because it comes from a stranger!

This past Sunday, I received my first friend request on Facebook, from someone I never heard of. His name is Scott Dale. Before declining (which was my first instinct), I decided to Google him. I found this link, and was pretty sure that it was the same person who had invited me. OK, so he’s a musician, and maybe I somehow know him, and have just lost my mind.

So, instead of accepting or declining, I send him a message through Facebook. I ask him (apologetically) whether I know him. Even this form of contact made me hesitate and think before I acted. When you send a message to someone who isn’t your friend on Facebook, you are explicitly granting them access to view your profile for 30 days! Yes, Facebook makes it reasonably clear before you hit send (good!) and it makes sense, or they too would likely ignore your unsolicited message.

I decided to do it. I also hoped that he would only have limited access to my profile (which would exclude things like my IM, etc.), but I really wasn’t sure.

I ended up having a nice email-like conversation with Scott (eight messages between us). He wasn’t sure how he originally got my contact information, but he had just joined Facebook, so I got the invitation as part of the bulk upload. I mentioned that I blog about music quite a bit, and perhaps he picked it up there, but neither of us was sure.

I then asked him whether he was using Facebook just to network with friends (in which case I would graciously decline his invitation), or whether he was using it to promote his music, in which case I would willingly accept his invitation, because I had listened to his music on Fuzz.com (at the link above), and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was the latter, and we’re now officially friends.

I had also never heard of Fuzz.com before, so my new friend taught me a new trick as well. 🙂

Anyway, I am not all that active on Facebook, though I do find that I log on more frequently than I thought I would. Ironically, a while ago I added a blog application called My Blogs, which is an RSS feed which injects links to my blogs into my Facebook feed. I have been surprised by the number of clicks I get through Facebook on this blog, so my friends are definitely logged on to Facebook enough to notice new posts from me in my feed, and they then click on them to see what I’m up to. Cool!

Finally, these bulk uploads work to identify up-and-coming new networks. Lately, I have gotten quite a number of invitations for the new Pulse service by Plaxo. Plaxo has been around for years, as an online contact manager. Pulse feels like a hybrid between LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s actually remarkably similar looking to Facebook, with a touch more business orientation. There too I haven’t invited anyone, but my network is growing nonetheless…