Are online friends “real friends”?
I was a little amused that Plaxo (an online calendar/address book/organiser service) sent me an email to let me know that somebody I knew had joined their service. I clicked on the link and was presented with the following options.
You can choose between Business Network, Family or Friend. Though the suggested text beside ‘Friend’ is more than a tad condescending, especially for what is essentially a service for connecting and sharing information online.
Your real life friends. (Not your “social networking friends”)
But wait, there’s still more…!
Further down on the same screen:
Pulse is for real relationships. Please do not spam people you don’t know with unwelcome connection requests.
How do you know if a request is ‘unwelcome’ before you send it? Isn’t that the point of the exercise, to give the other person the opportunity to accept or deny the request at their discretion?
I hear the expression ‘IRL friends’ all the time. I understand the desire to differentiate between those relationships in daily life and those that exist online. I understand that there are different dimensions and dynamics to both. What I struggle with though is the implication that friendships formed online are in some way inferior, trivial or ‘unreal.’ If anything, I tend to think these relationships can be much more meaningful to the extent that they’re based on shared passions, interests and beliefs, rather than just the stuff of circumstance – a shared city, workplace, demographic.
Psychology aside, I do worry about the longevity of a web based service that would begrudge such relationships. As it is my friend, the new user of that service, didn’t fit neatly into any of the categories provided and I sort of gave up and closed the window. I don’t really use Plaxo anyway…