Redefining Friendship

"But really, these sites aren’t about connecting and reconnecting. They’re a platform for self-branding."

I really don’t agree with, or even understand, the point Stein is trying to make in this article in Time, because even in non-technology enabled social networks there is an element of branding. Stein’s critique of social networks primarily reflects a generational gap (and he’s 5 years younger than me), which he gives himself away on with his repeated lament on the loss of privacy. Stein seems to lose sight of the fact that privacy is not being taken away from me but rather that I am opting-out of a private exchange format.

His assertion that these sites are not about connecting and reconnecting is absurd on it’s face, contrary to how millions of people are using these web services everyday.

Here’s how I’m using just a few of these networks:

1) I do stay connected with friends and colleagues, and reconnect with those I have lost contact with (Linkedin is actually very good on this point). The ability to reconnect with someone you met once but never stayed connected to is invaluable.

2) In network messaging has shifted me away from email, which will never go away but has seen it’s utility plummet as more and more crap requires filtering. With Facebook messaging I don’t have to deal with spam, occupational or otherwise, and only those in my friends list can email me.

3) With Facebook and Plaxo Pulse I get a slice of what my friends, real friends or acquaintances, are doing. The Facebook groups that people join provides an interesting perspective on their personalities. On a related note, I am increasingly convinced that Facebook groups are not discussion groups in the traditional definition, but rather a statement you make about a belief you hold, a cause you want to support, or something that interests you.

4) Twitter is something I am not a fervent fan of but I do see the value of microblogging as a way of broadcasting to a group of followers what you are doing, where you are, interesting links, and fragments of conversations that are jumping off points. I rarely use the direct messaging feature in Twitter.

5) Plaxo Pulse is something new for me, as is FriendFeed, but both are premised on the notion that we already have enough networks to participate in, and as a result we particapate in several. Pulse and FriendFeed capture "transaction" data from a broad range of source networks, for example "jeff added a Flickr photo" or "Jeff posted a Twitter message" or "Jeff added a blog post".

┬áMy main disagreement with Stein is that he is suggesting that self-branding is dishonest in nature. We brand ourselves constantly and managing one’s brand is increasingly a defining elemcnt of professional success. I view some elements of self-branding, such as expressing my technical and business interests, as a first step in reaching out to people with similar interests, the end result hopefully being mutual gain.

Stein’s writing about the dishonesty of self-branding is all the more ironic by the fact that he has a wikipedia entry. Now there’s self branding for you!