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Facebooking IS NOT Networking

I get these messages all the time.

From: thefacebook.com [mailto:confirm@thefacebook.com]
To: Ian
Subject: firstname lastname has listed you as a friend...

Firstname Lastname has requested to add you as a friend, but before we can do that, you must confirm that you are in fact friends with Firstname.

To confirm this request, go to:

thefacebook team.

Who is Firstname Lastname, you ask? Here are just a few examples of people from the past year.

- A girl from my hometown with whom I’ve never had a conversation. In fact, I’m not sure if we’ve ever spoken at all. If we have, it has certainly been over eight years ago. Listed me as a friend but still has never contacted me.

- A girl who, as it turns out, graduated from my high school two years after I did. Her name sounded slightly familiar in the message from thefacebook team, but I had no idea who she was. We had never been in contact before she listed me as a friend, and we haven’t since, either.

- Two people who attended a summer camp with me six years ago. We never spoke at the camp or in the past six years. And we still haven’t–even after I took the initiative to actually write to them after they sent facebook requests.

- A student from MIT who, although being in the same fraternity as me at a different time, has never had a conversation with me. Nothing more than a few “whazzups” and college-guy head nods in the last four years. Got thefacebook request but still haven’t heard from him.

- A guy who was a student in a class I helped teach four years ago. Good guy, but we haven’t spoke since then—even after I wrote to him after he sent the facebook request.

Anyway...I get those messages from thefacebook.com all the time, and they do nothing but puzzle me. What are those messages, really?

I know the messages say that Firstname Lastname “listed me as a friend,” but that can’t be right in cases like these. Of these six people, only one might have been considered a friend at any point. One isn’t even an acquaintance. Clearly, they wouldn’t claim that we’re friends. So what were those messages really for?

“Maybe they’re just trying to contact you.” Naw. Can’t be. My e-mail address is right on my profile on thefacebook.com, so if they wanted to contact me, they could write to me. But they didn’t. They just told a computer that I was their friend. They didn’t contact me before doing that. They didn’t contact me afterward either, even, in some cases, when I actually wrote directly to them.

“Maybe they’re trying to build their networks.” No way. If they wanted to count me as part of their network, they’d definitely start by contacting me. Perhaps they’d even try to get to know me and befriend me. You...just...never...know.

With no more ideas about what my facebook stalkers could have possibly been doing by telling thefacebook.com that I was their friend, I turned to a new word to describe their acts as part of a larger disease.


I honestly don’t know claim to know what all Facebooking can be, but I do know what it isn’t. Facebooking IS NOT Networking.

When I first said that, some of my friends asked why I had formed such a harsh opinion. But it really isn’t so much an opinion as a self-evident truth drawn from how people use thefacebook.com.

Facebooking seems to be some combination of (A) collecting the faces and profiles of as many people as possible in hopes of preparing for a day when there will be facebook fights, much like AIM fights, only different in that they might reward the winners with prizes rivaling those of the World Series of Poker; (B) wasting time by checking the recently updated profiles of your friends and your non-friends for really important information like the movie Reservoir Dogs being demoted from second to fourth position on someone’s favorite movies list; and (C) doing anything else that might support your success in the aforementioned pursuits (A) and (B), like skipping class or asking thefacebook.com to confirm that people you haven’t met before are, in fact, your friends.

That’s still not to say that thefacebook.com can't be a useful tool in my networking efforts. I actually joined for exactly that reason. Thefacebook.com serves as another directory, like other school alumni directories, from which I can pull contact information of my friends when needed. It’s great for finding additional people—as well as telling me whether I have friends who can introduce me—when I need to find people to ask for their advice, to invite them to participate in an activities, or even to offer them jobs. And it's also a way other people can find me for those purposes. All three cyber-functions are great enablers for me to connect with old friends or complete strangers in real life. Believe it or not, I have actually heard of other people successfully using thefacebook.com for exactly these purposes. But it’s rare.

The core use of thefacebook.com still baffles me. Consider this instance.

- A girl with whom the only contact I’d ever had was during a 2-hour boardgame when she was dating one of my friends two years ago. Also, unbeknownst to me, she had since severely mistreated my friend and their relationship had ended.

She had thefacebook.com ask me to confirm that I was her friend. Of course, I never have been, and I had even less reason to be now. So much less reason, in fact, that I didn’t immediately recognize her name in thefacebook message. On a whim, I decided to ask her to clarify my confusion about those mystery messages I’m constantly receiving.

I wrote:

Got a facebook invitation from you, but I didn't receive any contact from you, so I'm a bit confused. How do we know each other?

She wrote:

You would know me as the former girlfriend of your girlfriend’s friend Firstname. Since I hear that you're all about networking, I didn't think you'd find it too weird that I invite you as a friend.

Actually, if I’m “all about networking,” don’t you think she’d have to assume that one thing I would indeed find to be pretty weird is someone who’s quite obviously not my friend telling a website to tell me that she says I’m her friend and then not contacting me in any way on her own until after I prompt her?

I’ll say it again. Facebooking IS NOT Networking. And people like this guy keep reinforcing that truth.

Message:Hi, my name is Charlie. Im not some lonely freak trying to make friends on thefacebook, but im just trying to see how many people i can be connected to on thefacebook in the shortest amount of time (and perhaps break the world record... right). So far Ive got 50,000 friends in 2 weeks. I started by sending everyone a friend request, but apparently theres a limit on many friend requests you can have, so if you could please add me as a friend that would be cool. If not, then whatever. sall good. To add me as a friend just goto [some URL here].

So remember: Facebooking is NOT Networking.

And if you want to learn the real art of networking, of building REAL RELATIONSHIPS to be more successful in your career and have more fun in your life, read NEVER EAT ALONE -- and make all your friends read it, too, so they'll stop sending me messages like the ones above.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 15 August 2005


Hi Ian,

I think like you mention in your article, networking is doing a little more than befriending someone you have never met over facebook.

But I feel that a lot of people add you to their facebook or even to their linkedin network 'just in case they need something from you some day'. Sure you are not going to refuse a favor to your x-year long facebook buddy whom you have never spoken to.

On another note, I think for some people, this is some form of impersonal introduction. I know for a fact that a lot of people have told me something of the sort "you look familiar, aren't you on the facebook". It's like an icebreaker to start the conversation.


Posted by: Michel Rbeiz at August 18, 2005 12:01 PM