My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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loss of context for me on Facebook

Le sigh. I lost control over my Facebook tonight. Or rather, the context got destroyed. For months, I’ve been ignoring most friend requests. Tonight, I gave up and accepted most of them. I have been facing the precise dilemma that I write about in my articles: what constitutes a “friend”? Where’s the line? For Facebook, I had been only accepting friend requests from people that I went to school with and folks who have socialized at my house. But what about people that I enjoy talking with at conferences? What about people who so kindly read and comment on this blog? What about people I respect? What about people who appreciate my research but whom I have not yet met? I started feeling guilty as people poked me and emailed me to ask why I hadn’t accepted their friend request. My personal boundaries didn’t matter – my act of ignorance was deemed rude by those that didn’t share my social expectations.

I lost control over my MySpace ages ago. I have long since given up responding to private messages on most SNSes. I had to quit LinkedIn after I got lambasted for refusing to forward requests from people that I didn’t know to people who are so stretched thin that I am more interested in hugging them than requesting something of them. I don’t know how to be “me” on Twitter because I can’t figure out how to manage so many different contexts. I find it funny when journalists ask me what SNS I use. I’m on most of the English ones, but they always grow to push me away. Each had an initial context for me, but each one grew and lost that context.

I realize that I’m in an odd position. In some sense, I’m a “public figure”… at least in the world of social network sites. People see my name in the press and they friend request me and it’s rude of me to say no. I should be grateful that so many people are so kind to me, offering feedback and ideas, allowing me to get my work out far and wide. And I am truly grateful, but I’m also depressed that I’ve lost the ability to participate in social network sites as a semi-private person. I do miss the days when I could goof around digitally and not be taken out of context by people who only know me as this strong-headed, confident public voice. Some days, I’m just not that together. Some days, I just want to bitch without being called a bitch. Some days, I just want to talk to people who couldn’t give a hoot about social media.

When Facebook became the IT girl for the tech industry, I knew that I’d one day lose it as a space where I talked to my friends from college. I’m going to try out the Limited Profile thing, just to see if I can have at least a partial channel for my college world. If we didn’t go to college together, please don’t take it personally if you can only see the Limited Profile. That said, I can’t even tell what’s visible and what’s not (lists aren’t good for me) so I probably will just refrain from doing much on Facebook, just like I refrain from doing much on MySpace.

They say that social scientists study aspects of human behavior that elude them. I used to giggle at this, but I think I’ve backed myself into a corner. I’m not so good at managing multiple contexts and, here I am, studying precisely that.

Anyhow, I know folks are still going wheeeeee about Facebook. And I know people generally believe that growth is nothing but candy-coated goodness. And while I hate using myself as an example (cuz I ain’t representative), I do feel the need to point out that context management is still unfun, especially for early adopters, just as it has been on every other social network site. It sucks for teens trying to balance mom and friends. It sucks for college students trying to have a social life and not piss off their profs. It sucks for 20-somethings trying to date and balance their boss’s presence. And it sucks for me.

I can’t help but wonder if Facebook will have the same passionate college user base next school year now that it’s the hip adult thing. I don’t honestly know. But so far, American social network sites haven’t supported multiple social contexts tremendously well. Maybe the limited profile and privacy settings help, but I’m not so sure. Especially when profs are there to hang out with their friends, not just spy on their students. I’m wondering how prepared students are to see their profs’ Walls filled with notes from their friends. Hmmm…

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41 comments to loss of context for me on Facebook

  • Nathan D

    Maybe the real trend is the gradual loss of “context” — where people are less differentiated in their persona between school, work, and social worlds. Worlds collide!

    I do find myself much more cautious about what I say in my FB status and other FB behaviors having started a new job where I am re-sensitized to the professional me.

  • This is fascinating. It is like what my students talk about — they want their personal lives to be “social networking” and their school lives to be “student networking” and they want it treated differently. They want to keep “work” and “personal” separate so that they can operate in both.

    That is why I’ve stayed away from facebook from my professional life — (and haven’t yet done it for personal)– I think that we as educators should work to use some areas for different purposes and think of it in these strands — work and personal. Because it is when they overlap that we tend to start feeling very uncomfortable. In fact, when I add someone to twitter — I actually look at what they’ve been writing to decide if I’m going to add them — I really care more about what they are doing professionally, not that I don’t like people, but more that is what I am twittering for.

    I’ve bookmarked this post because I think it hits on a very important topic that not many are talking about.

    Vicki

  • Nathan,

    I suspect that trend is going to be highly unpopular. I’ve noticed more and more people waking up to the fact that they have little control over how their information gets disseminated. As secrecy and anonymity on the Internet becomes less important, private control over your own life becomes more so.

    Simon

  • aj

    social networking sites don’t have to be a reflection of your life. that is, the page doesn’t have to reflect your personality (although it should in part) and the friend list isn’t a tally of your real friends. i use facebook as a way to keep in touch with people that i would otherwise have a hard time keeping in touch with. for that reason i didn’t use facebook for a while, because i thought “what a cheap and shitty way to keep a friend”, but as more of my good friends rely on facebook and their declining enthusiasm for other mediums i acquiesced and created an account. so i include basically anyone who i can say more about than “i met them”. but the relationship has to have SOME meaning, unless you want a band page- i’d say that fans don’t count.

  • Even as a public figure, you have the right to expect privacy. We lament the celebrity stars for trying to keep their life private and then acting out in public. We say… oh they only did that for attention. I find I so much more respect for those public figures who also respect their private life and their loved ones. I would imagine we can all think of one celebrity or two, who we would love to know more about their personal life, but we understand or respect why they need to keep some things private. Yes, being in the public SNS realm creates a difficult balance. The answer on studying the one thing that eludes you may not be resolved. For now, just know many of us respect your work, would love to know more about you as a person, but understand the delicate balance you face of “friending.”

    We ALL struggle in some form or another with openness and friends, co-workers, former acquaintances, and tenuous relationships. I have made the personal decision to open myself as much as possible, let my worlds collide. Whew. wish me luck.

  • My brother, a rising college senior, just deleted his entire Facebook account (hundreds of friends, hundreds of photos) because of the issues you’re talking about.

  • Don’t sweat it too much Danah, I set up my Facebook account on the first of July and haven’t checked it in two weeks. Why? Couldn’t give you the slimmest idea. If I had to narrow it down, I would say because of the fact that I’m a bit hesitant to “put” myself out there like that. Call it paranoia, survival instinct, I don’t know, just kinda weired out by the idea of people from my past or present being able to find me so easily.

  • As ever, you capture something I’d wondered about and contextualise it beautifully.

  • it seems to me that facebook adoption happens in waves. for periods i will have no requests then a wave, then quiet then another wave. a “new wave” (whon whon), seems also to correspond to a new age group adopting the service.

    maybe it’s all anecdotal.

    cheers.

  • Elaine Brown

    Hi danah. This is an excellent post. It addresses issues I’ve been thinking about as I see more of my age group (I’m 42) join facebook. I joined in 2006 as a nontraditional grad student and was pretty cautious in my use because of the exact issues you raise. I also did some research on the use of facebook for my master’s work in communication.

    Now with my friends outside of my grad environment joining, I felt the need to give them some tips. Here’s what I posted on my notes section of my facebook profile:

    Facebook Etiquette for 40-somethings

    In order to do my part to keep facebook special, I am writing down some hints to other 40-somethings. I’ve seen how facebook adds to college life. It can add to our post college lives as well. But we need to follow some general guidelines for the good of everyone.

    1. Do not send a friend request to any of your kids’ friends. It’s kind of like joining their group at a movie. They just don’t want you there. It’s their place to hang out. Let them. Besides, it’s just creepy. If a young person sends you a friend request, then it’s fine to accept. But let them initiate it.

    2. Be careful about sending friend requests to anyone who may consider themselves in a different social stratum than you. If you’re the boss, if you’re significantly older than them, etc. do not enter their facebook world. Like above, let them have their space without your eyes on it. If they want to initiate a facebook friendship, that’s great. But let them take that step.

    3. Use privacy settings and don’t be offended when others use them too. They are there so that we can be in control of who sees what. And that’s OK. There is a difficult balance of public vs. private going on in an environment like this. Everyone should be able to balance that in the way that feels best to them without others feeling offended. (And that sometimes also includes friend requests being ignored.)

    4. Reconnect with old friends. Ever since its inception, people have been looking up old friends on facebook. When it was college only, students would find other students they were with in grade school. This is a great place to find old friends and see what they are up to now. Enjoy it.

    5. Put up a profile picture already!! It doesn’t take that much effort to put a picture on your profile. Besides, if someone is trying to reconnect with you, how are they going to know it’s the right Mike Brown (or whatever your name is)? But the big question marks have got to go!

    6. Invite other 40-somethings. The more people that are on a network, the more that network is valuable. Once a lot of your friends are on, you can think of all sorts of ways to use facebook for strengthening ties, sharing news, organizing groups, etc. But that can’t happen until (or unless) more of our age group is part of the social network site – interacting with our age group. (Please pass along etiquette tips to the newbies though.)

    7. Have fun. This started as a fun and useful tool on a college campus. If you met someone at a party and wanted to know more about them, contact them, or “friend” them, you could look them up on facebook. If you listed your courses and others did the same, you could connect with others in your classes more easily. “Walls” made interaction with your friends public and were a place for everyone to see who your friends were and how you interacted with them. This was not a LinkedIn-type network. It wasn’t about business. It was and is about being with your friends.

  • My MySpace account sits idle. I joined to check my son’s site. My son-in-law set up a MySpace site to showcase their band. It’s a way to market and get the buzz out. Facebook is great for my niece at college to keep up with her friends. Like Flickr for photo albums and embed them on some sites. LinkedIn continues to grow with professional network. Twitter daily yet block people that only want the numbers or for commercial reasons. I have joined so many social networks that I forgot which ones I signed up with. My reason is to learn about them for my work. I’ve talked to high school and college age students to ask them about their networks. It’s about the numbers for some and for others it’s their only social life. Some use SL to meet, date, and even send resumes to get a job. There seems to be a fuzzy line between personal and professional lives online for some in this generation.

    There are ways to use online communities for separate personal and professional reasons if designed with that in mind. In either case, there are areas that need to be private and confidential and others public. When it’s published on the net, it’s out there for everyone unless you have the tools to protect it or share it with just who you want.

  • Dan

    “People see my name in the press and they friend request me and it’s rude of me to say no. I should be grateful that so many people are so kind to me, offering feedback and ideas, allowing me to get my work out far and wide”

    Why is it rude?

  • FG

    I agree with Dan. Why is it rude?
    I accept requests just from people I met at last one time in person or people I like (because I appreciate their work).
    But what about the other side of the story?
    If you ignore a request of friendship from someone, you are losing a (potentially good) contact.
    How many smart people you hadn’t chance to know are out there?

  • I’ve just run into this in a different way. I found I had to Friend all my young relatives in order to invite them to a private group (just for the relatives). I didn’t want to Friend them, I’d have preferred to Relative or Family them.

    What I don’t know is if the group will still work if I unfriend my young relatives.

  • Hollie

    Hey, anytime you want to talk to someone outside of your “specialty”- let me know! 🙂

  • SB

    I joined Facebook to connect with a couple of young friends whom I seldom see — and then discovered the fun of reconnecting with lots of In-Real-Life friends. Then I started finding my internet friends, and they started to find me.

    I’m not a public figure, so this isn’t a problem for me. But for you — I wonder if you’ve considered opening two facebook accounts — one for your personal life, and one for your public life?

    Also — an FYI — I usually have to increase fonts on websites to see them, and I do so here. It works fine on your postings, but here in comments it cuts off the right side of the box.

    I like reading your comment threads; they’re interesting. But it’s a pain.

  • SB – I’d love to find someone who could actually help me upgrade this blog and fix these issues but I don’t know anyone. I know some things are broken but I need to find someone who knows how MT works and can test it on multiple systems. 🙁 If you know anyone, send them my way!

  • Hi Dannah. I just started to leave you a reply when an earthquake hit Madrid!!! (a small one 4,7 richter, but scared me…)

    I am one of the “unknown friends” you just accepted in Facebook. I understand your concerns about losing the context and the privacy, but I really think what you gain is more what you loose.
    Be in touch with the people that admires yoy can be even better than with the people that comes to your house to have a tea.

    In my case, I have separate facebook and twitter accounts, to have my family and closest friends appart from the rest.
    Jose Antoni.

  • Will Warner

    I think if anyone digs deep enough into any aspect of human behavior, they’ll keep following connections outwards until they reach terrain that eludes them. In a sense, we are human, so nothing human is alien to any of us; but at the same time, it’s amazing how little human terrain any of us can know and feel comfortable with firsthand. And possibly also how much human behavior we don’t allow ourselves to understand, because it would make us ashamed, or misanthropic, or even suicidal. People are frighteningly mechanical, self-interested, and thoughtless, but we can’t survive without respect for ourselves and each other, and maybe even a little sense of awe and mystery.

    It would be nice if seeing your boss or professor’s profile, with a wall covered in friends’ comments, could drive a little wedge into the faceless traditional authority roles, and remind us that we’re all people, and we’re all in it together. Or we could use multiple profiles, one public professional one, another locked for classmates, and perhaps another locked for family, another for co-workers, etc. Which is a shame, because pulling levers to specify access controls every time you so much as cough online is such a hassle.

    I really just added you because I hoped it would give you access to more of the facebook network to study. I suppose that means I was assuming that the profile I found was a squeaky-clean professional one, although now that I think about it, I should have known that on facebook, it would be both. Speaking for myself, and probably many more of the strangers who’ve added you on a whim, ignoring the friend request or even dropping me from the list wouldn’t be offensive at all. Your call, and whatever you decide, I hope you continue to enjoy the technology, as well as learning about it!

    As to the Movable Type font resizing fiasco, I’m appalled that the authors created and released a system this complicated without ever testing something as basic as font resizing. And unfortunately I don’t know any good way to fix it, either. The best workarounds I can offer offhand are either using the Mac feature that zooms in on a portion of the screen, which has now been ported to some experimental linux desktop managers and perhaps to Windows as well, or else copying the tiny text and pasting it into a word processor, then jacking up the font size there. I guess it’s just more Web 2.0 cha-cha: one step forward for the user, and one step back. At least the net hasn’t been taken over by those all-flash sites that kill deep-linking, text-to-speech, and copying text and images.

  • Will Warner

    Now that I think about it, “humans get depressed by some insights about themselves” is a good example of an insight that depresses me. I would love to say that people would respect one another without any ignorance, awe, or mystery of one another, and that even if we were all as transparent to one another as thin air we’d still be kind. But that would have to mean that we’d all resist the temptation to manipulate and use one another, even when we knew exactly how to get away with it.

  • SB: Amen! The font is indeed too small. For posts and comments both.

    Danah, many of your comments are very interesting but it is a pain to have to read these threads and I have to keep my face within about 10 inches of the screen. I use Google Reader for your posts and the font size there is just fine. Perhaps MT offers you a link for comments. I haven’t seen one on your site yet.

    This was a great post. As one of the people who sent you a friend request without having gone to the same schools or having socialized with (one that you did accept eventually after exchanging a few messages sporadically), I think its great that you’ve decided to open up. One of the consequences of being on a social networking site and being popular is the exposure it brings to all those people out there. I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.

    I think Facebook is an amazing platform to connect with some amazing people. Like FG said, you might lose out on a potentially good contact by ignoring a friend request. I am fortunate to have met some incredible people on Facebook. It has helped me in my quest to learn more every day. Which is one of the reasons I follow your blog.

  • Great post, danah, and you’ve articulated the issue well. I struggle with this, too… not because I’m a public figure, but because I’m a person who looks for some degree of privacy. Like the teen who doesn’t want mom or her friends to have a window, I don’t want everyone in my life — past or present — to have equal access. And as you say… context management sucks.

  • danah, you need to take back control. It’s not rude to ignore a friend request. Not at all! In fact, its potentially rude for someone to come into a social space like Facebook and just ask to be your friend, even if you’ve met them professionally in person.

    The other day, I messaged a guy that I met at a conference b/c I noticed we had a friend in common… but just to point that out… not to ask to be his friend. He responded with a friend add and I accepted b/c I actually wouldn’t mind being his friend… but I had at least met him and even then I hesitated to ever add him and waited until he added me.

    So, please please please… unfriend me if you want! You have a right to your own space and a right to say who you connect with and where. Not rude at all!

  • Great post and a fascinating discussion – the topic is one that I have been thinking about for a while now. It’s funny on one hand we applaud trends like “Radical Transparency” when it relates to brands and companies (Wired magazine, May 2007), but it is hard when we realise that our lives have become radically transparent. In the UK there have been quite a few article recently in which journalists have picked apart the Facebook pages of “famous” people – thing is that the people that they choose weren’t famous. Campaign, the UK ad mag, went through all the Facebook friends of Creative Directors, Planning Directors etc; the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times have all done the same with journalists and media types. It seems that it is impossible to have a private digital life if you are at all succesful.

    I know folks who are getting into all sorts of trouble at work because of the Facebook photos that are being uploaded, not by them but by other people, who then tag them in it.

    I was also talking at a conference for women in Digital (She Says) I had been asked to be a mentor to young digital planners and strategists, one girl came up to me, told me how much she enjoyed reading my blog and would I mentor her. I had run out of cards and told her to find me on Facebook. She looked appalled and simply said that she never used Facebook for anyone apart from her college friends. I have never felt older in my life!!

    BTW, I would try to have two Facebook accounts if you want to try and separate the two worlds.

  • danah, very well-said! While I’m still having a huge amount of fun with Facebook, I have to admit that I’m feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the melding of my personal and professional lives. I’m getting lots of friend requests from people that just met me briefly at a conference… or — more annoying yet — from people who *want* to know me. I mean, heck, I enjoy meeting new people and am far from elitist, but could you at least establish some rapport first via a few private messages?! 🙂

    And I have half a mind to just unfriend all my “professional” acquaintances, but it’s not that simple. I actually *DO* consider a large number of people I work with or professionally associate with to be my actual friends. And I also sometimes enjoy learning more about the people I work with or see at conferences — the humanizing aspect can be reassuring and even useful :).

    But with that said, I still often wish for some separation and wonder if friend-grouping on Facebook would offer more help than harm. For instance, what if you could denote the strength and type of relationship ties? e.g., “This is a family member. We’re really close” or “This is a work acquaintance. We barely know each other” or “This is a personal friend; we’re best buddies!” Then again — given that this would likely be exposed in some fashion — can you imagine the outcry and uncomfortableness associated with putting relationships into neat boxes? ACK! No easy answers.

  • Now there’s a whole new style of social networking. Launched today, try http://www.iyomu.com – in theory for the more grownup audience, definitely different from facebook etc.,
    I’m trialling it for now – the added bonus of a potential million dollars (although it’s a slim slim chance) and a different twist on matching people. Still not entirely convinced though.

  • I’m not on Facebook, but have experienced similar things with other services such as tribe. One of the things that I liked about Flickr when I started using it was that it encouraged you to ignore people if they added you as a contact, and you really didn’t care about them.

    I wonder how much of the problem arises from the sheer complexity of human relationships? Not only are you dealing with different contexts, you’re also dealing with different “quality” of links within those contexts and – importantly – across time.

    Perhaps, by formalising these links technically, we’re also simplifying them? Not all my friends, for example, are equally my friends – some are closer to acquaintances, some are good fun, others are people I respect more. Same for workers, teachers, etc. Further, these relationships change over time – I have people I used to be friends with that I’m not friends with now. I respect some people more than I used to.

    But when you’ve stated a relationship explicitly – even as “good friend”, “irregular friend”, etc (the “logical” next step of granularity in SNS?) – it seems to me very difficult to change that – in either direction – without expecting some reciprocation. By marking someone as ‘respected’, say, to their on-line face, you’re signalling to them that you *want* them to know that, and act accordingly.

    But surely that’s not how it works in real life? Respect is a private thing. Liking someone changes over time, sometimes from day to day. Flexibility in friendship is a personal thing. Each link is its own narrative, a history – not just a “yes or no, forever” thing.

    Ultimately, I think relationships are much more “implicit” and unspoken than SNSes would like us to believe. Being able to like or dislike someone without them knowing is, perhaps, an essential.

  • Unfriending people you don’t know (with a public note referring to this issue, and your related research which all you followers should be familiar with) seems fine to me: it’s not like, through your blog, Twitter feeds, public appearances or news quote we miss you 😉

    BTW: I’ve unfriended you; I sent you an invite to demonstrate how it worked to a relative, as you appeared as just having friended my boss (who, I assume, met you but knows you mostly through your blog & research) I assumed you decided to make that account public, as in Twitter.

    As I’ve seen several fakesters on Facebook recently (generally groups that do not want to have explicit, public managers) I assume you could have the more personal aspect of your life under an alternative spelling.

    The key issue is your “I don’t like lists”. We all know you do: aren’t you a geekette? But you know it doesn’t make sense to list your “buddies who should have access to my Wall” by opposition to your “fans who should see some of my status report, but not the corny ones”.

    Obviously, the SNS, i.e. self-publishing, features of this “utility” (Official denomination) needs more context — if not for being a celebrity, for having a personal and a professional life. What I’ve read about today’s students being OK to over-share doesn’t counter-balances the same ones complaining about having to deal with stalk-spam. And the older generations simply can’t face it. I’ve seen the tweaking tools of Facebook, and even I, a so-called specialist, can’t make anything out of it.

    What about tagging some of what you put on there? You can’t define what is personal, but you sure can tell is it when you see it; similarly, you can’t list who are your friends, but you can’t tell if he would be interested in your whereabouts when you think of him. Personal, invisible tags (or better: logos) could help you say: Fan, Family, Ex-partner…

    Another useful feature (Mark Z. are you listening?) would be to actually see what such and such relative see from me. Showing would reassure people and help them tweak this complex social game of Hide-and-Seek.

  • Oh, and about that font-size issue: it’s been annoying me for the past year or so.

    IANAW (I Am Not A Webmaster) but I’d change the following style sheet:

    http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/styles-site.css

    There are two lines:

    width: 700px;

    I would both to something like:

    width: 80ex;

    That way, the text width would be proportional to the font size: “px” are pixels; “ex” is the heigt of the letter “x”, the usual way to measure font size.

    I personnaly might prefer “60ex”, but that is just me — and it would disrupt your title (in pink).

  • My bad: “width: 95ex” appears to be the best fit.

  • Being one of those you recently accepted as a “friend”, though knowing nothing about me, I must first thank you- as a new graduate student writing my thesis on tribe, Facebook and MySpace, you’ve decidedly expanded my field of information. My first thought upon viewing your profile- “yay! she likes psytrance!”. My first action- joining every Internet researcher group I found in your list of groups.

    For me, every friend request is exciting, as it opens up a new sphere of Internet sociality. I do use the Limited Profile option to keep a few things private from those I do not know, and I edit my NewsFeed to receive information only about those I care about. Recently, I’ve received friend requests from India and the UAE- though not knowing them in the least, I accepted the requests immediately. I think Facebook is as contextualized as one wishes it to be, it just takes a little time and know-how of the control features.

    That said, my very focused ears have been picking up on an increasing disinterest in Facebook… “it’s too much!”- and yet an inability to disengage. I speak for my first-generation Facebook-using friends… mostly very recent alums.

    Be well,
    Jenny

  • Margaret

    Perhaps we need to wait for a SNS that allows users to define their own contexts; Facebook doesn’t map to my world of social contexts very well, nor do the others I’ve tried. We’re not commonly forced to announce how we divvy up the people we know into groups like family, close friend, not-as-close friend, family friend, acquaintance, professional relation, and so forth. And the times that we do have to do so publicly (e.g. choosing who to invite to a wedding) are uncomfortable. It’ll be interesting to see if a SNS can figure out a way to allow users to create their own contexts so they can interact with others in a happy way, while at the same time hiding (or allowing the hiding of) each individual’s classification of others.

  • Within the Context of No Context by George W.S. Trow might be a helpful read or re-read as we wander through these networks.

    And thanks for choosing to be my friend on Facebook. I’m not sure what it means, but I think I might like it. I think I might like it because I want to connect with smart people. For real. Even if the connection is tenuous, as it often is on the interwebs.

  • Hi Danah – the answer to this is a more finely grained notion of friend. In my head I picture overlapping circles of friends – a bit like a ven diagram. Different parts of your profile are visible to different circles, and you can put the same person in more than one.

    This is the way we manage our networks in real life – different parties, different dress codes etc.

    Great blog by the way – can’t believe I haven’t been here before.

    best,
    Nic

  • Andrew

    From the comments here is sounds like segmented SNS are inevitable, but I would be a chagrined to see the end of a common “friend” pool:

    It’s healthy when a teen feels he can friend a parent, and trust them to not infringe on his separate social space.

    If your boss is on your friends list you may not vent about her so quickly, but maybe it’s better to pause, respect her as a human being, and consider the root of the problem.

    And your boss is socially sophisticated if she knows when she is the intended target of a status, and when it would be a kind of insider trading to acknowledge it.

  • I just cited your idea of “loss of context” in a short post on my blog:

    http://treehugging.org

    I thought I’d let you know.

  • Why not do what Stephen Fry (English writer, actor and genius) has done and create a Proxy Friends of Danah group? Then anyone can join without you having to add them or reject them and everyone can then see what you want them to see through the group?

    The price of fame I guess!!!

  • Hi Danah –

    The difficulty w/ FB and many other SNS is that the architecture doesn’t reflect reality; that is, that as social creatures we maintain a myraid of social networks, many of them complex, overlapping and nuanced. The problem is complicated by the fact that the term “friend” is a particularly ambigious and clumsy social construct.

    The “friend” designation is the key which opens the door to FaceBook-land. But it’s a bit like having one tool – a hammer – to build an entire house. In theory it could be done, but in the end you’d be left with a weak foundation… and probably not as many “friends” as you’d think to help you move in. 😉

  • Jessica

    Hi Danah. You could always make your own SNS with Ning (http://www.ning.com/) for you and your college friends!

  • Wow – I am really delighted to read this article and find other like-minded folks who think about what it is to presence “context” amongst your network! this has been an ongoing area of research for me ever since being introduced to Rational ClearCase in 1995, a software configuration management system that used contextulized “views” as a means of viewing your software development world from different angles. Life has never really been the same every since my mind wandered off and thought about what life would be like if we were to bring such sophisticated context-sensitive tools to the table! ok – i’ll save most of you the details and just want to let you know it’s nice of all of you to reinvigorate a conversation that’s been in the backburner for quite some time.

    so far, facebook is working for me quite well – it has done quite well in the department of *integrating* my networks together – bringing the various hubs of people I know to one table. it has been able to solve the painpoint I had prior which felt much like jumping from one context to another because that’s just the way websites are structured which is no fault of its own.

    I am particularly happy facebook has become a more media-rich means of interacting with my network that has started to replace email as my portal (for lack of a better term). 3D worlds like Second Life are great in concept but we still have ways to go before it becomes widely adopted. facebook is a nice stopgap solution and accepted by people of different walks of life which is why it’s gotten high marks in my book.

    I’ll continue to be a big fan of bringing new ideas as to how we choose to contextualize our time online. I, too, am in favor of keeping things open and breaking down societal barriers (yet also keeping our online lives sane!) so look fwd to seeing where this conversation leads!

  • I’ll continue to be a big fan of bringing new ideas as to how we choose to contextualize our time online. I, too, am in favor of keeping things open and breaking down societal barriers (yet also keeping our online lives sane!) so look fwd to seeing where this conversation leads!