Friends vs. Acquaintances

Steve Rubel had an interesting post a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been holding onto to consider. He postulates that the Web Changes How We Define Friendships. Steve makes some compelling points about the drive towards quantity versus quality when you start participating in social networks.

I have a different theory. I believe that social networks are not changing the way we define friends. Our close friends are the ones for whom we never needed social networking tools in the first place. Our friends are the ones who know who we are, have been to our homes, and who have refrigerator privileges*.

What social networks see to be able to do is help us better track our acquaintances. I think there is a stigma attached to the word acquaintance. We think of acquaintances as cool relationships. Distant relationships that mean little. In fact, they mean a lot.

I have acquaintances who I greet warmly whenever I see them or correspond with them. I don’t know them intimately, but I know them well enough to want to know how they are doing and what they are up to.

Perhaps social networks will change our definition of friendship, but if they do, it will because we were never comfortable with the word acquaintance and because word acquaintance is too long to fit nicely into our common language and UI designs.

* Refrigerator privileges is an idea I read about in Never Eat Alone defining the friendships that you have where the person feels free to raid your refrigerator. The idea in the book is that we need more friends with refrigerator privileges. I couldn’t agree more.

Trying to Follow the HTML Crisis

I’ve been lost over the last few days trying to understand the differing opinions on the status of the next generation of HTML code. Molly, who I’ve had the good fortune to meet and whose opinion I respect, raised the alarm about the state of the W3C development. Jeffrey Zeldman whose article “To Hell With Bad Browsers” kicked off the movement for standards-based web development doesn’t see a crisis at all.

It is pretty clear that something has been going on given the sobering testimonial of Roger Johansson who explained why he abandoned and then rejoined the W3C’s HTML Working Group.

Aside from trying to follow the problems (or lack thereof), I’ve been trying to sort out what the next generation of HTML is supposed to be. A few years ago, I convinced my company to standardize on XHTML. We worked our way through the rendering issues and finally had XHTML adoption throughout the organization.

Which is why I’ve been ignoring HTML 5. I drank the kool aid on XHTML, why would I go back to HTML now?

Seeing so much concern over HTML 5 today by the same people who advocated XHTML confused me greatly. What happened to XHTML 2.0? Why are we going back to HTML?

Come to find out, I missed a change at some point. I remember a lot of concern about XHTML 2.0 being unwieldy and a radical departure from HTML and XHTML 1.0, but I didn’t follow the outcome of those discussions fully.

Turns out HTML 5 is the agreed upon next step for both HTML and XHTML. HTML 5 is designed to resolve the issues between HTML and XHTML and converge them into one specification. While I still have some concerns about dropping the requirement or preference for well-formed markup, I’m now more reassured about the direction our core web technology is headed.

The new elements in HTML 5 sound  like improvements. The example of next generation web forms is too good to be true. The clarification of HTML 5 that those participating in the development of the specification have agreed to will be a welcome change and will hopefully prevent someone else from having to do the research I did to sort through the standards mishmash.

Molly’s call for action may have been more alarmist than it needed to be, but there have been some good outcomes from the discussion. If nothing else, I’m now excited about the potential of HTML 5 and finally understand that XHTML isn’t going away anytime soon.

Following Selena’s Lead

My friend Selena pointed out that we had both written about the Clay Shirky article that I referenced earlier this week. She was kind not to point out that she wrote about the article two weeks earlier. This is simply the latest in a series of times where Selena was ahead of me on discovering valuable things.

In college, Selena was running a Linux box, talking about open source software, and working on quality of service routing before these topics were mainstream. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was so excited about them.

When we bumped into each other a few years ago, she convinced me to give social bookmarking, tagging and similar technologies a second look. Now I can’t imagine living without my delicious bookmarks.

Essentially, Selena is one of the smartest people I know. I’ve been rediscovering trails she already had blazed for as long as I’ve known her.

Given these facts, I’ll declare a small victory that this time I was only two weeks behind her. :-)

Talking to Anvil Media’s Kent Lewis

I managed to have a lengthy conversation last evening with Kent Lewis of Anvil Media at PDX MindShare. Kent and I had met a few times before, but had never had an extended conversation until now.

I left the conversation inspired, energetic and feeling like Kent and I were kindred spirits with our views on business and the world.

Kent has tremendous integrity. He believes in a world of abundance and that being giving back to your community, you get your contribution back tenfold.

I couldn’t have been more impressed and am grateful that I got to know him better.

A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Joel on Software points to a great article by Clay Shirky on why a Group is its Own Worst Enemy. Joel points out that that he was rediscovering something about social software that Clay had documented 4 years ago.¬† Similarly, I can’t believe I hadn’t found Clay’s article before.

The article captures the challenges of building online communities and the need to provide structures for those communities better than anything else I’ve read. There are a lot of articles that will describe the things you need to do to be successful in building online community, but this is the first article I’ve read that makes a compelling, rational argument for why groups of people are so likely to fail and how you can’t separate the technology from the social structure.

I can’t recommend this article enough. Great stuff for anyone trying to build community online.