Tuesday, December 18, 2007


This is a stupid statement. 800 Facebook friends are too many and reflect insecurity? Please. I'm not responding to this because I am approaching 800 friends on Facebook, but the fact that it doesn't take much analysis or deep thinking to see that this assessment is flawed.

First, it's not surprising that people like Robert Scoble and Jason Calacanis have over 2,000 friends because their blogs are read by tens of thousands. So do any of their 2,000+ friends perceive them as insecure? No. They are just well-known in the blogosphere and attract invite requests. Even Hugh MacLeod, the cartoonist and blogger, gets 28 requests a day and he's a second-tier blogger.

But I'm not even referring to these people in my analysis of why these academics haven't looked beyond the shallow end of the research pool. I'm thinking about people like myself, who are very extroverted, or recent graduates that used Facebook as their primary online address book.

Consider a very social person who belongs to a large religious organization, such as a church or temple, or social organization, such as a fraternity or sports club. A large church would have at least a thousand to several thousand members. If you're fairly active and friendly in a church of twenty-somethings, you could get a few hundred Facebook connections from this organization alone. Then add another hundred or more from your fraternity, and then your other friends from high school or other circles which can easily add up to 500-1,000+ connections. Would people perceive these people as insecure? No.

If you are a recent graduate of a professional school, such as an MBA program or law school, it's easy to realize that 800 is not a number reflective of insecurity or people simply wanting to horde online friends. Such programs are about networking, so with classes of 300 to 1,000 a very social person can easily accumulate a large number of friends that would welcome the connection. I finished my graduate program in 1998, so not one of my 104 classmates are on Facebook but if we recently graduated I am certain that I would have connected with many of them (probably more since there were 200+ MPA students in the total program plus 700+ MIA students) because we had small classes and had many social gatherings every month that led to a close-knit culture.

With today's college students living on Facebook as their primarily social tool, I would hardly label a person as "insecure" if they accumulated such numbers unless many of their connections did not know them at all.

So there is the other side if a person accumulates a majority of their connections without really knowing them, then I would label them as a bit off or possibly insecure (probably neurotic). Most of these people you could identify with the little interaction that you've had with them. From your conversations, nonverbal cues, or how they present themselves on their profiles can be indicators of insecurity or shallowness of their relationships. So the researchers from Penn State who created mock profiles to test this theory would obviously gather such responses since these online "people" had zero real connection with their "friends." Also placing an arbitrary number, such as 800, on this behavior was stupid. This perception or behavior could be for people with 100 connections or 2,000. Just a quick scan through my list of friends, those with 800 or greater connections are all either personalities in the blogosphere or very social people with connections to large organizations whose typical members are in their twenties (i.e. churches, schools, community groups).

Another factor to consider is the purpose of the connection since some people are using Facebook as a business tool ("Facebook - the Hub for Your Personal Brand"). For myself, probably a quarter of my connections are professionally related connections, so I don't know them as friends but it's assumed from both sides that the purpose of being "friends" is business related. Generally, I try to keep my Linkedin connections separate from my Facebook connections unless I have interacted with the people fairly often. So there are many people, especially in Silicon Valley, that conference hop and accumulate connections by using Facebook as their rolodex so again it's easy to see active networkers accumulate 500 to 1,000+ Facebook friends.

Anyway, since I didn't see the details of these various research results I might be missing something, but I hope these academics come out with more interesting findings on online social interaction in the future than this topic.

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