Will Reader (at Sheffield Hallam Univ. in the northern UK) has been doing research on the number of friends Facebook and MySpace users have. He finds that the number of close friends is the same for those online as offline (5), although online users report many more total friends.
Whether having many more nodding acquaintanceships or ‘weak’ friendships through Facebook or MySpace is valuable or not depends on the extent to which those friendships could actually be used for specific goals (finding a job, or borrowing $10, or getting a ride to NYC, or…).
Will Reader opines that many of these weak friends are ‘trophy friends’ (designating people as friends with no intention of reciprocity). I’ve reported on this phenomenon earlier. “So ‘everyone is friends with Lily Allen, for example,’ he said, referring to the pop starlet who likes to share her woes with her fans on MySpace.”
“There is even software – notably MySpace Whore and MySpace Whore Train – ‘which automates part of the friendship procedure.’ “
“Another unusual feature of virtual socializing is ‘defriending’ where people are removed from a list of friends, rather than allowed to ‘fade out’, as in real life. One colleague did this because his new friend used poor English, he said.
“Despite this extraordinary flux of making and breaking friendships, the actual number of close friends ‘is approximately the same as in the face to face world,’ said Dr Reader.
“There are ‘good evolutionary reasons’ why this should be. Making friendships means investing time, even money, in another person. To ensure that investment is worthwhile, face to face contact is invaluable, he said. But ‘it is very easy to be deceptive on the internet.’ “
“Of all the sites, the majority – 90 per cent – of close friends have been met face to face. ‘Face to face contact is a requirement for intimate friendships….There are many emotional cues that people give face to face, such as smiling and laughing, which are impossible to fake, whereas online it is easy to say ‘You are wonderful, I love you.’ “
Quotes from Telegraph story Facebook Study Reveals Users’ ‘Trophy Friends’ (9/10/07)
When I’m able to access the write-up from Reader, I may post with substantive thoughts. Reader advised me that he will put it on his web site www.reader.statichost.co.uk/ in several weeks.