how to find internet friends
i met some incredible people on twitter by accident. what can i do to have more of those accidents?
three days ago, i saw a tweet on my timeline (from someone i didn’t follow) that read (i’m paraphrasing) “i want to go back to blogging like it’s 2007” (self-hosted blog, just sharing thoughts and work and ideas, less performative) – a very relatable sentiment. this is something i’ve been thinking about in the past weeks (good job, algorithm), so i left a reply, asking for advice in terms of suitable tools to make it happen. a couple of people replied, and one reached out in DMs. we spoke a bit and it seemed like we had a lot of similar ideas, so we agreed to do a phone call. the next morning, we spoke for an hour, exchanging thoughts and ideas. this felt good.
this could be the beginning of an incredibly classy homosexual erotica. for better or for worse, it isn’t.
the reason i’m bringing up this story is that the whole experience felt very reminiscent of the early 2000s internet, when you would just accidentally strike up a conversation with a stranger, and it would be a good thing. somehow, in the past years i can barely remember anything like that happening.
it’s hard to say whether it’s me (rarely replying to strangers’ tweets), or the environments (the algorithms kind of forcing everyone into their bubbles), or both, one influencing the other, both ways (you ask a genuine question and get a mean response, which makes you hesitant to approach strangers, etc.) – but either way, i clearly remember that i used to meet people online, and now i don’t.
it’s incredibly difficult to answer “why”, and also, it doesn’t really matter. what matters is: how do i change that?
what can i do to meet people who share my interests, values, ideas?
i am tempted to call this “networking that doesn’t feel like networking”. a conversation, a dialogue, which is equally interesting to both parties – unlike two sales pitches, two people mutually disengaged, talking “past each other”. a conversation that is fueled by substance, by what’s being said, not by pursuit of personal gain.
the essential requirement for two strangers to start talking is some shared context.
LinkedIn is where people speak about their work like they are on a job interview. on Twitter, people speak about their work because they care about their work.
this morning i started thinking about some kind of “Discover” feature on top on twitter which would be helpful to me. how could it possibly work?
one very obvious direction is to explore my social graph. i’m fairly certain that of some people who i follow, or who follow me, there are people with whom i might have something in common – but we’re unaware of one another’s existence. i assumer that the chances of like-mindedness are much higher within my micro-bubble than within a completely random sample of 1000 people on twitter.
but bubbles are dangerous precisely because they are bubbles: they are not really inclusive by definition. they greatly limit your discovery opportunities by excluding everyone who is not already in some way connected to you.
so another direction would be some extremely elegant way to find potential friends based on identifying similarities between you and other people. how can that be done?
- for example, you read an article and liked it so much that you tweeted a link to it. somebody else did the exact same thing. just this one piece of information can suggest that you might have something in common. perhaps that article can become this “shared context” over which you can strike up a conversation?
- of course, this is largely an oversimplification. after all, my tweet might read “oh my god i love this so much”, whereas a stranger’s tweet might read “oh my god i fucking hate this” – so the matchmaking algorithm would need to take this “emotional context” into account as well.
- now, let’s take this a bit further. let’s take not one tweet, but, say, one full month of tweets. this gives us much more information about a person, so we can start building their “profile”. (BIG ETHICAL DANGERS HERE! – editor’s note) we can start identifying recurring themes, their areas of interest, their sense of humour, and we can do better educated guesses on the potential “contexts of interest”.
- and so, now let’s imagine everyone has their “profile”, and they can choose to hit a button that, rougly, would read “i want to see someone new [who is, in some way, kinda like me]”
AN INTERMISSION. Oct 9. i’m reading what i wrote above (about three weks ago) and i’m about to make a counter point. so, i’m making an argument that “it’s bad/not enough to be inside your bubble.” i find this argument hilarious. that’s how like everybody lived for most of human histories: in their villages, in their small communities. their lives revolved around maybe 20-30 other people. that was their bubble and they perfectly managed. so– thanks to the internet, did we finally accepted “people = commodity”? this is sad, very sad. this line of thinking – “there’s ALWAYS someone new” – is dangerous, as it means you don’t value your existing connections enough. so… this is not a critique of what’s above; just an observation.
it’s just probably important to recognize that there’s a limit of people you can keep in your life. reasonably. at SOME proximity. and that you can’t realistically find space for more people.
note: the above paragraph prompted me to think about a person who “scrolled through” the entire tinder. like on the planet. everyone. everywhere. there’s nobody on your planet. wow. holy shit. that would be so cool.
for now, i’ll leave this piece unfinished. there’s enough here already to have a discussion/debate around it!