I have deliberately shunned social networking sites for years now. Actually, I’ve shunned pretty much everything about the social networking scene ever since the first chat clients came out years ago. I don’t have a ready explanation for this aversion, other than the slimy feeling I get whenever I ask someone to link to my site or for their chat name: I feel like it’s high school all over again. I don’t keep IM up and running a whole lot, nor do I just randomly IM people for the hell of it. I look at it sort of like making a phone call: I need to have something good to say in order to take the time out of someone’s day.
I’ve dipped my toes in the pool a few times, through Flickr (where my linked friends number in the teens) and through IM (begrudgingly; some people conduct the entirety of their business on IM, but I find it distracting) but I’ve never gotten over that feeling of wheedling supplicance, as if I was the freshman asking a senior if I could come to their party. I suppose this attitude throughout life has meant I haven’t been to many parties, but I have to look at the people with 900+ buddies and wonder if it’s just another game of collection and posturing. How can I be expected to maintain relationships with 900 buddies on a daily basis when I’m bad at maintaining flesh-and-blood relationships with actual people I know and love? Oh, and stay married, run a business, and spend at least a half-hour of waking time away from the computer?
Last year I was invited to join a business-oriented social networking site, and I considered the offer for a while before acting. Perhaps this would be different from the other sites I’ve poked around on (it was better-looking, for one thing), and perhaps it might help me from a business perspective, I thought. With reservation, I signed up and created a profile, entered some employment information, and then poked around to see who else was signed up. The results were pretty slim at that point—a few people on the margins of companies I’d worked for, but nobody I’d actually consider contacting.
At that point, I decided my criteria for linking to other people would be twofold: I would have to had direct working contact with them, and I would have to be reasonably certain they’d link back to me.
Over time, I got a few invites from friends I knew, but the account lay mostly dormant for a year until recently, when I got an invite from a friend at a company I’d not listed in my history, which I accepted. After I updated my profile, suddenly I got three more invites from people I didn’t remember and two that I did. I noticed that certain people had contacts in the upper two digits (and sometimes three) while others had numbers like mine.
Asking around with some connected friends, I found that several of the people asking me for links were people we couldn’t remember—the names were familiar, but the faces and roles were mysterious.
Also, with reservation, I took the larger step of inviting several people I’d worked with for links, feeling sheepishly like a freshman again. Thankfully, the people I invited all linked back to me, which was affirming. I guess it’s something that I need to just get over, because there are millions of people out there linking and inviting and connecting and buddying who have the faintest connection with each other, and they don’t seem to have a problem with it. For me, though, I look at it like the friends I’ve got—it’s not the numbers, it’s the quality.