Clay Shirky's posted a nice little analysis of the evolving user-interfaces for social network services on Many2Many. The thing he nails down really tight here is that negotiating friendship is something we're actually pretty good at -- until we're asked to port representations of those relationships to the digital realm. Computers are best used to do stuff that's hard or boring (repetitious counting and sorting, for example) and, IMO, it's a bad idea to ask them to take something that's neither hard nor boring and make it a little of both in the service off some ill-defined reward. By which I mean: I already know who my friends are, and it's not hard to know that; but exposing an exhaustive list of my nuanced social relations is damned hard, and none of the YASNSes offer me any serious benefit for doing so.
[N]ow [Orkut has] added this linear scale of friendship that would be laughed out of a freshman sociology course, and then they say tell me the data is private. Of course it's not private -- that data isn't for me, it's for Orkut. I don't need it in the first place, because I am a monkey, descended from a long line of such monkeys, whose main talent consists of keeping track of relationships. Measured on the time scale of our social capacity, fire is a recent invention and agriculture is still a novelty.
The "how good a friend are they" data is useless or worse for me, but useful for Orkut, because they are desperate to represent social networks numerically, which is why they keep adding things to an interface they should be subtracting things from. The problem isn't the cost or refinement of accepting a friendship transaction, the problem is that friendship isn't a transaction, something almost no social networking service understands.
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