Facebook, Friend Inflation, and Graph Search.

Facebook’s newly launched Graph Search signals two big things to the world:

  1. Engineers over 40 years of age can do great things; and
  2. We are dealing with the consequences of Friend Inflation.

First, the lead engineer on the Graph Search project — part of a large team, no matter what news sources may tell you — is Lars Rasmussen. Lars is not 20-something years old. In fact, he is above the age of Renewal and would have experienced Carousel more than ten years ago if the world happened to operate as it does in Logan’s Run (whether you read the book, saw the movie, or both). Fortunately for Lars, and many of the rest of us, Logan’s Run was a work of fiction.

Second, most of the value of Graph Search derives from the dramatic Friend Inflation we have experienced since 2005. Efforts to revalue the Friend currency to its earlier state have failed. Facebook tried to introduce a non-inflated form of social currency by adding the operator “Close” to the word “Friend.” The Oxford America Dictionary has tried to devalue the “Friend” currency by qualifying the Facebook-issued bills as “a contact associated with a social networking site.”

In fact, there may be no greater evidence for this rampant, uncontrollable Friend Inflation than the addition of the “Hide” function in the Facebook News Feed.

Back in the stone age, you didn’t have to do a web search to figure out which of your Friends lived in Palo Alto and owned a Dog. Why? Because there was a shortage of Friends during the stone age ; We usually had so few friends that if you asked me, “Which of your friends lives in Palo Alto and has a dog?” I could just tell you. The task required a natural language processor — my brain — and an information storage medium — my brain.

In this new age, however, I can be your friend even if I don’t know what movie you saw last week, whether you have a dog, or even whether or not you live in the same city as I do. This Friend inflation has resulted in a social bank account filled with hundreds if not thousands of “Friends,” about whom we know very little.

As a result of this inflation, the sorts of information you would previously acquire over time, the result of which would have eventually led to the designation, “Friend,” now becomes the sort of information you might access within moments of adding a new contact to your Facebook portfolio. Information that might previously have seemed costly to acquire (in terms of time and effort) is now cheaply acquired.

And as a result, the phrase “You are my Friend” may have lost a great deal of its original value.

Perhaps, these tiny bits of data about the people around you were just that: tiny bits of data. These data were, essentially, less meaningful than had been assumed. Knowing things about people didn’t make them your friend, and not knowing things about people didn’t not make them your friend (that last spin made my head rattle).

However, I would like to posit the creation of a new word.

This word is the one you use to describe those people who are so important to you that you don’t need a search engine to remember, or to for the first time find out, those bits of data and meaningful information that might be surfaced through a search of Facebook profiles.


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