Does Today’s Facebook Really Help Build Relationships?

Facebook has certainly come a long way since its baby days, hasn’t it?  As one of the first college students to adopt the social networking platform, I’m all smiles when Facebook rolls out new changes.  At the moment Facebook is promoting its upcoming home page changes which will allow users to post content directly from the main page, bypassing the need to jump to one’s own profile.  I’m all for it.

And the most recent set of changes, namely the “like” function along with the tabbed news feeds, have certainly taken the social networking site to a new level.  A recent study by The Economist, as relayed by Overstated.net, suggests that Facebook is helping users make and build relationships that might otherwise not be built and maintained without the site.  Certainly, there’s a comfort level with and value to “friending” someone on Facebook, and then communicating and building those relationships.  

But being able to “creep” friends of friends’ photos, send harmless messages to users you don’t know, and meet new people doesn’t necessarily mean you’re building real and lasting relationships.  In fact, in my own observations I’ve noticed that many college students are more than comfortable accepting or sending friend requests to common acquaintances for the purposes of staying hooked in to what’s happening in various social circles, but when it comes down to spending time together in public…well, it isn’t quite as fun and social as it is on Facebook.  

That isn’t to say that “social” relationships can’t translate to the real world.  Far from it, I know first hand that all variety of connections and relationships can turn into real relationships.  However, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say thatthe new tools of Facebook, which increase visibility, transparency and connectivity are directly causing real relationships to sprout up like dandelions.  

Also, it’s probably time to dispel notions that Facebook is somehow cutting in on the good times had by Twitter and FriendFeed.  Yes, Facebook has replicated some of the functionality and environment of each respective platform.  But when push comes to shove, I think most folks will readily admit that Facebook is a staple of their social networking, and more importantly, that it isn’t the same thing as using the other two platforms.  Facebook is also not stealing users from the other platforms.  Like it or not, most folks use Facebook, and if they use other platforms, they interact in different ways on each.  

Facebook can’t be Twitter, and it can’t be FriendFeed.  I like to think that cultivating an involvement in social networking leads users to adopt additional, different platforms to fit their individual styles and desires.  I’m skeptical of claims that users might be starting out on Twitter only to drop their accounts once they discover the holy grail that is Facebook.  

Make your friends and enjoy your social networks.  Just don’t go banking on some study which suggests that the ability to stalk some random person’s photos will make them your bff.

  • I agree with your analysis, and I think that there always will be a place for Facebook and MySpace to bring acquaintances together. However, I really think the potential and the power of social networking is in the niche sites. The niche sites actually bind people around common interests and this creates a much larger opportunity for actual connection.

    Indeed, Facebook's initial success was dependent on it being a niche social networking site for college students. Just the other day in fact, I saw a person calling to create a social network for your street to bring a neighborhood together. So while I agree that the mega-sites will never achieve what they claim to in terms of creating a 'social graph', but I believe that the next generation of sites will ultimately accomplish what the big sites failed to do.

  • I agree with your analysis, and I think that there always will be a place for Facebook and MySpace to bring acquaintances together. However, I really think the potential and the power of social networking is in the niche sites. The niche sites actually bind people around common interests and this creates a much larger opportunity for actual connection.

    Indeed, Facebook's initial success was dependent on it being a niche social networking site for college students. Just the other day in fact, I saw a person calling to create a social network for your street to bring a neighborhood together. So while I agree that the mega-sites will never achieve what they claim to in terms of creating a 'social graph', but I believe that the next generation of sites will ultimately accomplish what the big sites failed to do.

  • I agree with your analysis, and I think that there always will be a place for Facebook and MySpace to bring acquaintances together. However, I really think the potential and the power of social networking is in the niche sites. The niche sites actually bind people around common interests and this creates a much larger opportunity for actual connection.

    Indeed, Facebook's initial success was dependent on it being a niche social networking site for college students. Just the other day in fact, I saw a person calling to create a social network for your street to bring a neighborhood together. So while I agree that the mega-sites will never achieve what they claim to in terms of creating a 'social graph', but I believe that the next generation of sites will ultimately accomplish what the big sites failed to do.

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  • Karly

    so do you feel that facebook has a postive impact on society?