Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Close Friends à la Facebook

One of the more interesting ideas that has arrived with the wide-scale adoption of social networks is the concept of a digit that expresses how many "friends" you have. It's most common with Facebook, since it is still the social giant. A friend is someone who you have clicked to say "this is a friend of mine" and the other person clicks and says, "yes, I agree that we are friends". It's a link between the two personal accounts, and that link grants viewing rights for certain buckets of content (status updates, location, photos, etc) as defined by the users. In more technical parlance, it's known as a "synchronous" connection, because both people must agree explicitly to each other (you can't "friend" someone by fiat who does not wish to be so connected).

Facebook eventually realized two things: users were ending up with a humongous pile of friends and that the public did not necessarily want to declare things to *everyone* in that pile equally. Facebook's solution was the concept of lists. Lists allow you to take your undiscriminated group of friends and... discriminate a bit. It allowed you to glance at all people in a particular list without seeing everyone. You could put everyone from your softball team in a list and easily scroll back through their posts to see if you missed where the last game was.

Some lists have special properties, and the one I want to mention is the list called "Close Friends." Like all the other lists, it allows you to place people (ostensibly your closest friends) into an easy to manage list, but it also generates an unmissable notification to the top of the page (red to stand out against Facebook's operating blue) whenever they post anything new. Unlike the continuous stream of updates from all of your other friends, when one of your Close Friends posts anything from a weather update to a wedding picture, the website effectively taps you on the shoulder. "Hey, did you notice that thing Caroline said?"

This means that the Close Friends list is self-limiting. If you put everyone in that list, your notifications quickly become clogged by every update and it will quickly max out at 99 and be useless. So part of the "game" is finding out what is the ideal number, which varies for each person.

In my case, I have 240 friends. My Close Friends list includes 15 of those people. That's just over six percent, for those of you counting. The list includes the following:

TWO members of my extended family. It is not at all a coincidence to note that they are the most active of the few members of my family who actually use Facebook. I always want to know what they post, because it's usually pictures of themselves and other people I know.

ONE is a previous professor of mine. They keep fairly active and have wonderful links to music content that have never failed to delight. On to the list they go.

SIX have children. I enjoy the photos.

FOUR are single.

FIVE are male.

FIVE are older than I am.

FOUR live in Kansas City or its environs.

SIX have I seen face-to-face in the last thirty days. That only includes two from the four of the previous line.

THREE have been inside my home in Kansas City. I'm embarrassed that number isn't higher.

SIX are musicians. I assumed that would be higher.

SIX are educators. Not the same six as the musicians.

ELEVEN have shared nights under the same roof as me - their homes, my home, or other arrangements.

ELEVEN have been married at some point. SEVEN had weddings I attended. FIVE involved me doing more than spectating during the ceremony.

ONE is taller than I am. I think.

THIRTEEN of their mothers I've been introduced to. Only SIX fathers. I find the disparity most interesting.

FIVE have I prepared food for.

So what do these fifteen people all have in common? Very little. The only thing that binds them together is that I want to make sure I see what it is they have to say on this particular social network. There's also nothing particularly sacred about this list: I swapped people in or out as I was writing this entry. In fact, if I never heard again from any of the people, I'd really only be broken-hearted about five or six.

It's also interesting to think how many people's list I'm included on. How many people know this functionality exists and care enough about being alerted to what I have to say? Only Facebook knows.

And if they could find some advertiser willing to pay for that data, they'd sell it in an instant.

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