: What is a Friend to You? :
Posted on 10-05-2010
Filed Under (clients, sdr) by aweigend

by Chuanyang Chee, Ron Chung, and Andreas Weigend

ideasproject1 What is a Friend to You? clients

Curious about the best response to the question from IDEAS PROJECT last week?

1. Ron Chung won the prize for the “best answer”.

Here is what Ron said about a “friend” in the era of the social data revolution:

There are two types of ‘friends’, (i) real ‘close-to-heart’ personal friendships, and (ii) online social friendships.

(i) In real personal friendships you more carefully screen and maintain that relationships.  In these situations, you provide more physical and emotional attention compared to online relationships.

(ii) Online social friendships form to maintain touchpoints with people we interact with (sort of like a large addressbook). In the context of consumer internet and social networks/media, an online ‘friend’ is someone you form a weak connection through some form of engagement. This engagement can occur through real world meeting or simply an online exchange (e.g. blog comments, Twitter message, etc).

Also, in these online friendships, there is ambiguity around bilateral versus unilateral ‘friendships’.  For example, Twitter uses ‘followers’ & Facebook uses ‘fans’ to represent unidirection relationships and Facebook uses ‘friends’ to denote bilateral friendships.  However, some Facebook ‘friendships’ are not truly bilateral. They are simply ways for one side to collect ‘friends’ for the sake of amassing a large audience. All of this points to a desire for people maintain touchpoints with people through online medium should they ever want to re-engage them.

In the end, online social friendships give us ambient awareness of what is going on with people, giving us a type of “reality-TV news” channel.

2. A few thoughts by Andreas Weigend:

Daphna Oyserman suggested:

  • Someone whose happiness makes me happy and with whom I feel eager to share my own happiness (knowing that the feeling is mutual).

My favorite one-liner came from Jason Wei in my Stanford class:

  • Someone I’m comfortable being myself with.

My own points (to the degree anyone can have their own points after reading through hundreds of responses) would be, that a friend to me is:

  • Someone whose eyes I want to see the world through.
  • Someone who can make me laugh until tears run down my cheeks.
  • Someone who brings the best out of me, accepting me the way I am (or want to be).
  • Someone who manages to pull me out of a (real or imagined) bad situation.

Please use the comment box below for your comments. Thanks!

3. Finally, Chuanyang Chee shares his insights on the longer SDR survey.

This survey on the Social Data Revolution was developed by Chuanyang and Andreas and taken by Spring 2010 students at Stanford’s The Social Data Revolution, and Tsinghua’s The Digital Networked Economy.

Finding that long-lost best friend from elementary school has become trivial ever since Facebook hit a total subscription of 400 million active users. But having not kept in touch for a couple of years or decades, what is the point of connecting now? Does he even still consider me a friend? Remember me?

The meaning of friendship, as most respondents to a survey revealed, often include descriptions such as caring for each other, trust, sharing personal information and thoughts, and mutual helping. Many of us have more friends than our attention can handle. On average, a survey respondent has 474 friends on Facebook. After a certain society catches the “Facebook fever”, a large proportion of each user’s social circle can be found on it. In the survey, the respondents were asked to come up with an analogy for Facebook and almost 15% of the responses compared Facebook to high school or a year book. Many felt like they were being constantly watched and judged for the things they do on Facebook. One interesting response even compared Facebook to an “online version of society”. To a certain extent, Facebook IS like a society because of the flexibility and scalability that it offers. Fluid like a society, Facebook allows members to join or leave altogether, create and share, hide in a corner and watch, and form groups and networks among willing parties. The versatility of how Facebook can be used also explains why the respondents find Facebook to be less personal than Instant Messaging and email but less public than twitter and blogs.

Facebook has made real-time connectivity (through notifications) possible for the users and it has the key features of IM, email, twitter and blogs. Users can choose to give third-party applications permission to access their information in return for some benefits such as access to games or using the application to find friends near them (geo-location). All these contribute to the surface reason for why people are attracted to Facebook. Going beneath the technological capabilities’ appeal, we need to understand why friends play such a big role in the success of Facebook.

In the survey, respondents were asked what they would do if Facebook was going to shut down in two days and all data would be destroyed. Most of them chose to download photos shared with and shared by others and record down contact information of their friends. Generally, we don’t like to lose the feeling of being connected with others and shared experiences that we have with our friends, regardless of whether we are close to them or not.

Friends are like social mirrors, we use them to know our inner self. We like to hang out with people who are similar to us so that we can know our “self” better. Without our friends, we can’t share things, we can’t form collective memories of what we experienced together, and we certainly can’t receive help when we need it. As Facebook gradually transforms into an online society, the friendship network becomes the glue to keep users from leaving; especially for users with a long friends list. Therefore an efficient way to manage these friendships gradually becomes more important. Unfortunately, Facebook does not seem to prioritize our 1047 friends the same way we would in real-life by collecting and analyzing relevant data.

The process which can be used to categorize our friends is generally observable through our behavior and the explicit information which we share. For close relationships, we tend to have more memorable shared experiences, allow them to see more personal information and would be more willing to help them. We simply form more connections by talking about them, posting and taking photos of them.

The earlier versions of Facebook allowed users to fill in information on how they are related to friends that they add. That was interesting data which could be used to analyze the closeness of a relationship. By collecting such data, Facebook can create different web-like networks to represent and understand each user’s relationship with his or her friends. Friends can be represented with simple nodes and the strength of relationship represented by the length of the links between the nodes. Relevant data collected can be used to adjust the length of the links between the each user’s node and the friend’s node. The physically closer two nodes are to each other, the stronger their relationship is. This is akin to the cognitive associative model in organizing semantic memory where strong associations are formed when two nodes are often activated simultaneously. When two friends update relationship details about themselves, tag photos with both of them in it, chat daily on IM, regularly messages each other and click on each others’ shared items, they generate clues to the strength of their relationship.
When such data are amassed, clusters of friendships would appear and being able to identify such clusters might be valuable for businesses. Instead of advertising indiscriminately to the different friendship clusters, businesses can target the “ring leader” of each cluster and focus their resources on getting the leader to participate in try-outs for certain idea or product. By the block-leader approach, the clusters may then be subsequently influenced through word of mouth.

Presently, Facebook allows us to manage our friends by manually grouping them into certain categories. But if Facebook does not want to be replaced by a new social media network, then the improved version will need to take data collection and analysis into the next level by tracking individuals’ online social behavior. By doing so, Facebook can play a part in managing the relationships by recognising relevant updates, notifications and recommendations coming from each individual user using some algorithm. However, we should not solely focus on strong relationships and forsake the weak ones. This is because Granovetter’s notion of the strength of weak ties suggests that we benefit from having not-so-close friends from different social circles. So what we need is to use technology to manage our network of friendships more efficiently such that we can readily distinguish the friends who will be recommending us our next job from the friends who we get emotional and social support from.

Related posts:

  1. Social Data Revolution, Part 3 — Digital Exhibitionism: The Future of Relationships?
(2) Comments   


Shaun Tai on 14 May, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

“A friend to me, is someone that I have experienced sacrifice, success, and joy with.” – @shaun_tai | #ideasproject | bit.ly/chuanyang

Link-Tipps der letzten Woche | Leander Wattig on 16 May, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

[...] What is a Friend to You? [...]

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