My 342 Friends..

On: October 12, 2008
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About Wouter Dijkstra
I am concerned with ICT for accountability, awareness and transparency. I am doing research on traditional, local and popular communication structures in Uganda and will see how New Media technologies can be used effectively as a tool within these structures. My aim is to find ways in which citizens can take on a more active role within political structures in Uganda and how ICT’s can help in this process.


I have so many friends,
I see them everyday
some I’ve never met
But their picture seemed OK

In her article ‘RELATIONSHIP: Context, Culture, Power’ Danah Boyd describes the difficulties we have with defining our relationships. Discussions around social software are flawed because these difficulties. She discusses the context of time in which relationships between people change and thus the vocabulary to use in describing this relationship. Also, in real life we describe certain persons according to context. Said to boss: “Alex is my friend.” Said to best friend: “Alex is this girl i’m fucking.” Said to mom: “Alex is this nice girl i’m dating.”. Culture can influence the words we choose for a relationship as well as power. Every person has relationships for a purpose, he or she is getting enough out of the relationship to keep up with the effort he has to put into maintaining it.

Now in the social network world online, the ‘naming’ vocabulary of relationships are largely bypassed by the designers of the social software. One is simply called a ‘friend’ in Facebook and a ‘part of the professional network’ at ‘Linkdin’.

By taking away the difficulties of naming a relationship, the threshold to take somebody up in your network is almost non existent. This is off course in advantage of the designers of the site who like to see everyone joining and linkin in to their network.

The power relation is also brought down to a minimum to reduce the effort of upholding the relationships. This is why these sites seem to be so popular. You can contact the person who you need without having to put effort into him when he is not needed.

The question on the difficulty of categorizing relationships is maybe not a problem per se. It would be possible to rank your facebook relationships. But this is not in the interest of both the user and the designer of the networking site. Although we personally know who we like more and less and why, it is easier to keep this to yourself. The bigger question in a relationships is: What does the other think of me? This question might be the reason for people to put effort in a relationship (and thus be on facebook/twitter/Hyves all the time) and could explain the succes of the self representing networking sites.

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