If I May Brag

In which my daughter makes an appearance in this morning’s newspaper (sub/ad req):

Nora Heineman-Fleck, social networking liaison for the University of New Mexico and a frequent user of online networks, has learned to tailor her personal networks like Facebook to make them more useful.

“I very rarely actually ‘unfriend’ people,” she says. “I usually just take them out of my feed. I can still communicate with them. I just don’t want to see every time they update something I don’t care about.”

People who pay attention to everything their friends post will likely have trouble keeping up with more than 100 people, she says.

Networks also fill with people who aren’t really friends. Heineman-Fleck points to a 2007 article, “How Your Creepy Ex-Co-workers Will Kill Facebook,” by Canadian blogger Cory Doctorow. She agrees with his premise — people flee networks not because of the networks’ features but because of awkward situations like not being able to ignore friend requests. Social networks that let users limit social awkwardness are most successful, she says.

Plus, if I may also brag a bit about the work of a colleague, Amanda Schoenberg took the topic beyond “OMG Twitter What I Had For Breakfast” to provide a thoughtful look at the nature of human social networks, and the way electronic media fits into the stuff we’ve done as a species all along:

What exactly is a social network? Simply put, it is a set of people and their relationships, says James Fowler, co-author with Nicholas Christakis of the book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.”

“We have always had family members, and we’ve always had friends,” Fowler writes in an e-mail from San Diego, where he is an associate professor at the University of California-San Diego. “So online social networks — where we communicate with people via the Internet — are really just the latest version of the networks we’ve always had.”

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