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The meaning of a friendship? March 9, 2007

Posted by Malene Charlotte Larsen in Arto, Friendship, MySpace, Social Networking, Social networking sites.

Concurrently with social networking sites and services becoming increasingly popular the notion of ‘friendship’ is changing.2007-03-07_151952.png Many of the large social networking sites like MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Facebook and Arto are using the friendship metaphor in relation to the contactvenner.jpg lists. This means that the word ‘friendship’ has a new meaning online and rings more hollow than in its original sense.

Even though you have to be accepted as a friend from the other part, it is quite easy to collect many friends (since almost everyone wants a high number of friends). As a result young people often have more than 100 ‘friends’ on their friend lists. Then, what do they do when they want to signal who their actual or ‘real’ friends are?

What I found on Arto was that the youngsters use a love discourse in relation to their IRL friends. Instead of writing about themselves on their profiles they are writing about their best friends in an extremely loving and positive manner saying how much they love and never want to loose each other.

Thus, youngsters use the word ‘friend’ in the same way I use the word ‘acquaintance’ – and the people I would call my friends they would probably describe as the ones who they love more than anything in the world.

A screen-dump from Arto. A 15-year old girl writes on her profile: “These are just some of my beloved friends/girlfriends:”.

Also, on Arto it is possible to get “Arto-married” to another user. Often the girls are married to their very best IRL friend and in that way they manage to signal their strongest offline relationship.

On the new social networking service Explode which I mentioned earlier on this blog people can add you as a friend without your acceptance. Thus, I appear on many ‘friend lists’ of people with whom I have never even communicated. This adds yet another bias to the notion of ‘friendship’ online.


1. donaldhtaylor - March 12, 2007


Thanks for posting this. While I like Explode, I frankly feel embarrassed when I click “add as a friend”. Isn’t friendship supposed to be mutual? I would much rather *only* be allowed to request friendship.


2. Malene Charlotte Larsen - March 12, 2007

Hi Donald,

Yes, I know what you mean. And I think you are right about the need of a mutual aspect of the online friendships.

As an alternative it could be called “People I find interesting” or something like that. Then we wouldn’t need to fell embarrassed 🙂
However, I think it is possible to change your settings in Explode so you receive a request whenever someone wants to add you as a friend.

3. Hot theme: social networking « Learning Technologies Conference Blog - March 19, 2007

[…] Myblog. But how real are these people? On her blog, Malene questions whether this means that the nature of friendship is changing, although one could argue that it just gives people more of a chance to prove how shallow they are […]

4. Anti-social networking « My PhD Blog - October 27, 2007

[…] networking sites. trackback What does it mean to be a friend online? As I have pointed out in an earlier blog post and as I stressed during my AoIR-presentation last week, the concept of friendship has changed. […]

5. Lark - October 31, 2007

Thanks for spelling out what I’ve been thinking all along. And to think… I felt maybe I was just unfriendly… or too aloof!

Personally, ever since I learned Murdoch owned MySpace… not to mention, that it’s so difficult to manage and keep track of anyway… I’ve decided the whole experience makes me feel “compromised” somehow.

Also, I resent the popular notion I must constantly be concerned about gathering an audience and be so maddeningly social, besides.

This monkey see-monkey do superficiality must be for morons who enjoy such utter meaninglessness – at least until it’s realized… the best friend one can possibly have… is yourself.

Now if I can just untether myself from this computer altogether… one day I might regain my sanity… and be made whole again!

6. alterati » Blog Archive » Fatigue 2.0 - February 18, 2008

[…] Charlotte Larsen, who’s been stressing the changing definition of ‘friend’ that has arisen in the wake of these networks, has recently pointed out a anti-social networking […]

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