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David Baxter

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Social networking sites don't deepen friendships
James Randerson, Guardian Unlimited
Monday September 10 2007

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace do not help you make more genuine close friends, according to a survey by researchers who studied how the websites are changing the nature of friendship networks.
Although social networking on the internet helps people to collect hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances, the researchers believe that face to face contact is nearly always necessary to form truly close friendships.

"Although the numbers of friends people have on these sites can be massive, the actual number of close friends is approximately the same in the face to face real world," said Will Reader at Sheffield Hallam University.

Social networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace have taken off rapidly in recent years. Facebook was launched initially in 2004 for Harvard University members but has since expanded to over 34m users worldwide. MySpace, which was set up in 2003, has over 200m users and was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 2005 for $580m.

Previous research has suggested that a person's conventional friendship group consists of around 150 people, with five very close friends but larger numbers of people who we keep in touch with less regularly. This figure is so consistent that scientists have suggested it is determined by the cognitive constraints of keeping up with large numbers of people. Larger numbers just require too much brain effort to keep track of.

But Dr Reader and his team have found that social networking sites do allow people to stretch this figure. The team asked over 200 people to fill in questionnaires about their online networking, asking for example how many online friends they had, how many of these were close friends and how many they had met face to face.

The team found that although the sites allowed contact with hundreds of acquaintances, as with conventional friendship networks, people tend to have around 5 close friends. Also, 90% of contacts that the subjects regarded as close friends were people they had met face to face. "People see face to face contact as being absolutely imperative in forming close friendships," added Dr Reader.

He told the British Association Festival of Science in York that social networking sites allow people to broaden their list of nodding acquaintances because staying in touch online is easy.

"What social network sites can do is decrease the cost of maintaining and forming these social networks because we can post information to multiple people," he said.

But to develop a real friendship we need to see that the other person is trustworthy. "We invest time and effort in them in the hope that sometime they will help us out. It is a kind of reciprocal relationship," said Dr Reader, "What we need is to be absolutely sure that a person is really going to invest in us, is really going to be there for us when we need them...It's very easy to be deceptive on the internet."
 

ladylore

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I like this article. :)

I have 1 close friend at the moment. And I call her a friend as she is the only one that I can just call up and say "Hey, watchya doing." I know a few other people I can call up for no reason but to say hi, but with my main buddy I don't need to be formal at all. We have tremendous respect for each other, she is over at my place just to hang out. She is just cool, and I love the gal alot.

Ladylore
 

Bones

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This makes sense.
I've often wondered how people on msn, facebook, myspace, ect. can have hundreds or thousands of "friends", while I have so very few in life.
 

Halo

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Bones,

Don't be alarmed at the number of "friends" that other people have on facebook, myspace etc. I know that I have lots of "friends" on there but the majority of them I would consider acquaintances and not friends in real life. Most of them don't even really know who the real "me" is. I only have 1 or 2 people in real life that know the real me and that is the way I like it.

As for people on Facebook, Myspace etc. having lots of friends, I personally think that a lot of it is a numbers game where it comes down to who can have the most "friends".
 

Bones

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As for people on Facebook, Myspace etc. having lots of friends, I personally think that a lot of it is a numbers game where it comes down to who can have the most "friends".

This I don't really understand why.
OK, so maybe having a large number of friend connections may make people feel more popular or important?
Understandable, but I don't relate to this.
I don't feel the need at all to be known as a popular person or person with lots of friends or who knows a lot of people. In fact I think I'd rather take pride on the opposite, that is having few close and good meaningful friendships.
 
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Halo

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I don't know why people feel the need for the numbers either Bones. I tend to agree with you that they probably want to feel popular or liked.

I am not one of those people that is into the numbers game and like to have a lot of friends to feel important or to feel popular. What I was saying was that there are a lot of people out there that willl become friends with "anybody" just to say that they have a lot of friends whether they actually like them or not.

The people that I have on my friends list are people that I actually know and like (mostly from years past) but that I don't at this time consider to be in my my inner most circle.

I think that it is great that you would rather have a few close meaninful friendships.
 

Bones

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I am not one of those people that is into the numbers game and liked to have a lot of friends to feel important or to feel popular. What I was saying was that there are a lot of people out there that willl become friends with "anybody" just to say that they have a lot of friends whether they actually like them or not.

Yeah, I didn't think that you were saying that you were one of those people.

I just don't quite understand why there are lots of these other people that will want to become friends with anyone just to say they have a lot of friends.

I notice on facebook or myspace people that have high friends list will also seem to have many photos of themselves at parties, drinking, smiling, and with other people. It gives the impression that they are happy and popular.
But, I get a feeling that these people may actually not be happy and this is all just a cover...
Like I honestly don't think its very natural for people to want to go out with large groups and get drunk and party. I think there is something else going on here.
But maybe I'm wrong.
I just don't get it and something seems not right.
 
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Halo

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I know exactly what you mean about the people with lots and lots of friends having all the party pictures.

It gives the impression that they are happy and popular.
But, I get a feeling that these people may actually not be happy and this is all just a cover...

That could be it. Maybe they are trying to make everyone think that they are popular and liking themselves when really they are unhappy and something is missing in their lives but make up for it by having lots of friends and company around to party with. I really don't know this is all speculation.

Like I honestly don't think its very natural for people to want to go out with large groups and get drunk and party. I think there is something else going on here.

Then again maybe for some people it is natural and that is the sort of company that they like to keep. They like to have lots of people around and socialize and party. Again I don't know as I am not one of those people myself.

I honestly don't try to figure them out all that much because as long as I am not accepting friends just for the sake of "looking popular" or to increase my "friends count" then I know that I am being genuine and I think that is the most important thing.
 

Bones

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Its just that I am not a very social or openly emotional person, and I find it sometimes difficult and puzzling, yet interesting to understand these people, as I guess they are opposite to my personality.
 

ladylore

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I don't feel the need at all to be known as a popular person or person with lots of friends or who knows a lot of people. In fact I think I'd rather take pride on the opposite, that is having few close and good meaningful friendships.

This is a great quality to have.

How many of those "friends" on Facebook etc. would be there for you when it really mattered most? And how many of these "friends" would stick around to celebrate the good times with you to? I don't like fairweather people and my guess is that most of those people, since you don't really know them would be fairweather aquaintances.
 

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