Wednesday, May 21

Have you Facebooked Old Friends Recently?

So in the last week I found two long-lost friends via social network sites. I had lost contact with both of them 8-10 years ago, primarily the victim of natural social network erosion. People moved, email addresses changed, phone numbers evolved. Gradually lost touch.

Every so often I would stalk them online to no avail. One of my friends, code name "Ex-coworker Creative Director", has a semi-popular name. So search engine hits would turn up a ton of results, which after 5 minutes of browsing revealed zero direct hits. My other friend, code name "Study Abroad in England Floormate", has a really unique first/last name that turns up zero hits. None. For the last 10 years.

Both friends excelled at existing under the grid. You wouldn't find a resume link, portfolio site, personal homepage, press release, or even online phonebook entry. They didn't exist online, which was fine with them. Until they felt compelled to join a social network site.

Ex-coworker CD is job searching and joined Linked-In. He actually found me first through the "people you might know" recommendation engine. He still doesn't show up in Google (at least not the first 5 pages of results, which is my breaking point). But a Linked-In search delivers 36 people with his name. He is now easy to find based on his city and job title (#4 on the search results list). We are getting together within the next week to catch up.

Study Abroad in England Floormate is also still Google Free. But I found her in about 5 seconds on Facebook. She's the only person with that name. Her Facebook page is literally blank except for her profile photo, which is obviously her. My "be my friend" invite was positively returned within 6 hours. We are now catching up over email and Flickr.

These are two people who really made no effort to establish an online presence, and they easily stayed off the grid. They aren't luddites, live fairly normal lives, and are probably among a large population of internet users without an online homestead. But one profile on one social network instantly opens them up to public eyes.

The social networks themselves are fairly low risk. You choose how much personal information to make public. Potential "friends" need to be acknowledged by you before they establish formal communication. But as social networks become ground zero for your online existence, the natural extension between your online and offline life begins. One or two words can instantly match your Linked In profile to someone else's photo album on Webshots. Which can link you to those relevant web pages results buried in the search engines. And all of the sudden your name drifts up through the search results flotsam, floating through the thermocline to the top of the results pages.

As more offline information becomes enabled online (cue Google Doomsday soundtrack), these connections become stronger. And your private life slowly inches into public. Which is OK with me. I still have a list of old college roommates who I'd love to catch up with, or at least lurk-view to see what they are up to.

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