When Is Facebook Friending Just a Numbers Game?

A couple of months ago I had over 800 “friends” on Facebook. Today? About 350. I’m sure many of you out there have thought about doing a Facebook cleanse or some Twitter spring cleaning, but maybe held back because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or don’t have the time. Maybe for some of you social networking is just an entertaining game where friends and followers are points.

Why did I expunge so many “friends” from my online life? The game was getting old and I couldn’t find the end of the level. My newsfeed and Twitter timeline were filled with intimate details of people I met at a party or went to high school with (even if they weren’t my friends). Rather than being able to connect with and follow the people I care about, I was trapped. Why are people trying to collect so many friends? How many true connections can one person really have?

Since starting over (okay, 350 is still a lot), I’ve noticed that the people I care about show up most often in my networks, that I’ve been able to hold real conversations with people both on and offline, and that killing a few moments on a social network has become enjoyable again. Did I lose the race to the top? Maybe, or maybe I’m just replaying the early levels to get more points.

Some of this may have to do with how we view friendships and personal connections in the virtual realm. Are they just as real? Experience seems to indicate that there is a much lower threshold for generating virtual friendships, but they also deliver less of value to our lives – leading us to equalize the delta with massive cleansings from time to time. Maybe, in cutting out the noise, we’re trying to mirror our social circle in real life just a little more closely within our virtual social networks.

Am I the only one here who thinks social networking has become a giant game?

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2 thoughts on “When Is Facebook Friending Just a Numbers Game?

  1. It’s interesting to read about your experience in the context of Dunbar’s number – the theoretical limit to the number of meaningful relationship’s a primate can have (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number), which seems to be a function of neocortex size and is estimated at around 150 for humans.

    A tool that virtualizes and “streamlines” social interactions – like Facebook – seems to extend this number, but always at the expense of the meaningfulness or “realness” of the relationships.

    It’s also interesting that the number you ended up on 350, falls within the range of participants we generally find that produces the most vibrant private online communities (300-500), a number that seems to engender conversation, participation, and productive interaction within a virtual group.

  2. Interesting insight on how social media are adding more noise to our day-to-day activities. Perhaps, it’s time to launch a Facebook-like network that will limit the number of your friends to let’s say one hundred, so that you can share your thoughts/news only with your closest people. One such platform already exists–it’s called Path, but it’s not as intuitive and only comes as an iPhone app. Or maybe these types of networks are already there, but are intended for closed communities. Anyway, it all depends on what you are looking for on Facebook or Twitter. Competition vs. sincerity?

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