NYTimes writes about how social networking sites are portending a change in how relationships form:
Danah Boyd, a sociologist, says that the real world has a set of properties, which she calls architectures. With its deceptively simple set of features, her thinking goes, Friendster bends or replaces all of the real-world architectures.
For instance, when two people speak to each other, they assume their conversation is fleeting, but e-mail and instant messaging, by making that conversation persistent, offer a new architecture. When two people greet each other on the street, neither can see (nor hope to grasp) the range of the other’s social network. For that matter, no individual can see information about his or her own social network: who knows whom, and how.
Friendster offers a mix of architecture-changing tools and technologies: e-mail, a profile (which offers a persistent presentation of self) and a coarse representation of a social network. “Friendster is an architectural change,” Ms. Boyd said. “It’s not a mimicry of a change; it’s a total change.” Once the early users of Friendster discovered these new architectures, they began to play with them. That’s how Friendster evolved from a dating site into something else.
[P]eople’s social curiosity turned [Friendster] into a place where everyone becomes the center of an unfolding drama (or comedy) of connections.
This is [a] mistake that Friendster and other sites make, Ms. Boyd contends. The site is built on the premise that friendship is transitive; that is, that if A is a friend of B, and B a friend of C, then A can be a friend of C, too.
But friendship develops in social contexts, Ms. Boyd says; it doesn’t just flow through the pipes of a network. “Just because you’re friends with somebody doesn’t mean their friends are similar in the type of context you are with your friends,” she said. Unless the social networking sites adapt to how people need to use them, she said, the sites will not succeed.