Digital insecurity and group-forming

Kellan, Snowdeal, deus_x, and raster write about digital insecurity — the anxiety you feel about asking a colleague to be your “friend” or “contact” on Ryze and similar systems.
The reason is that there is no context for asking. The question doesn’t correspond to a social form in real life.
In real life, you don’t ask someone if they’ll be your friend (not if you’re older than 5 or 6).
1. You start a conversation, and the conversation continues.
2. You join an established group (work, social, hobby), you participate together in shared activities, and enjoy the company of other participants.
3. You invite someone to something, or you accept an invitation.
Online friend lists, like Ryze and its conceptual ancestor Six-Degrees, really are socially weird. You ask someone to be your friend without any of the social context of a shared activity or conversation.
There are good online analogs to the first two friendship-starters. We’re still working on good online analogs to the third.
On the public internet, you don’t need permission to join a conversation. You send someone e-mail, or reply to an email. You leave a comment on someone’s weblog. If either person isn’t interested in continuing the conversation, they don’t reply.
Discussion groups and mailing lists are are online analogs (and often online add-ons) to joining a real-world group. You join EFF-Austin, and sign up for our mailing list. You can set up a mailing list or discussion group pretty easily — but those are pretty heavy persistent structures.
We still need easier and and more natural ways to create ad hoc groups.
You can send an Evite, but that’s more of a formal invitation to an offline event. Meet-up is ok — hundreds of groups meeting monthly in cities around the world. You sign up to a group, and then get reminders of the meetings. But it’s backwards and kind of totalitarian. Only Meet-up has the contact information — the group members don’t have each other’s contact information. Meet-up chooses the places to meet.
We need a range of easier and more natural ways to create ad hoc groups, invite people to the groups, let people join groups. The digital equivalent to hey, let’s go to a movie, or let’s go out hiking.
TopicExchange is a lovely example of this. Create a topic, and anyone can contribute blog posts to the discussion.

DJ Adams distributed book club looks like a good start at ad hoc book clubs.
I don’t think we need better FOAF metadata descriptions of the nuances of relationship. “I have now moved Bob from the category of FriendlyAquaintance to ModeratelyGoodFriend”. Instead, we need better groupforming mechanisms, so people can become friends naturally.

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