Arun Stephens

My far-too-liberal Facebook friend policy

I have 197 friends on Facebook. I don’t think I have 197 friends in real life.

When I first signed up to Facebook in the northern autumn of 2006, I had less than 10 friends. That was when I was in France, and most of the people I knew there were either still students (the poms) or had just finished university (the yanks). And Facebook was very big at universities in those two countries. (Back in New Zealand, however, it seemed that Bebo was the winner.)

Then Facebook began to become popular in New Zealand. People that I actually knew signed up and I added them. So far so good. Then one day I browsed the New Zealand network page, and saw someone that I went to primary school with. So I sent a friend request. And she accepted it. I felt special. I have this fear that I remember lots of people that I meet, but they don’t remember me. So I was pretty happy. That encouraged me to add other people I went to school with. And then people that I hadn’t found added me. That’s a good feeling – it’s fine when someone acknowledges your friendship, but when it’s the other person initiating the contact, it’s that much better!

With some of these long lost friends, we would exchange messages or write on each other’s walls for a bit. But for the vast majority of these people, we have had no contact after the impersonal process of adding and confirming friendships.

I enjoy checking out these friends’ (or acquaintances’) profiles to see what they’re up to, because I am genuinely interested in what has become of them, but I’m wondering whether they should really remain as “friends” on Facebook.

So I have to balance my nosiness with my desire to keep the friends list filled with friends and not just people that I haven’t communicated with in years. Twelve years, for most of them, because for the most part I’m talking about people I went to school with in Auckland. We were great friends when we were kids, but obviously drifted apart when I left. (Not so much drifted. I just left!)

So what to do? Remove them from my friends? I’ve done that once to a friend who kept on sending me Vampire invitations and rubbish like that. I think I will just leave it be.

Having said that, I’ve probably got a much more conservative policy than other people. Take Michael Arrington, for example. He’s the editor of TechCrunch, a tech blog. It was actually his post about a Facebook instant messaging client where he encouraged people to add him as a Facebook friend that reminded me that I wanted to write this. Should I add someone who I don’t know to my friends? That’s even more liberal than adding the friends that are the subject of this post. Although, arguably, I have more of a relationship with him than with these friends as I read TechCrunch every day. (I have never yet rejected a friend request, I think, so perhaps if Michael reads this (by virtue of the trackback that will inevitably be posted to the TechCrunch post he will know I am writing about him) and decides to add me, I will undoubtedly confirm!)

And don’t get me started on the people with thousands of applications on their profiles! (I used to be one of them, and still am to a certain extent, but only because I have added all the applications I have created.)