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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
The etiquette of networking
By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology Correspondent, BBC News

Facebook profile page
Facebook proves that I am a 21st Century man
Just 10 days after deciding that social networking was not for the over-forties, I've got 1,007 outstanding friendship requests on Facebook.

My phone is burbling day and night with new Twitter messages, and I've given up trying to maintain my Bebo and MySpace profiles - there's only so much virtual socialising a chap can do between the demands of work and family.

While I am beginning to think there are benefits to joining a virtual community, I am still finding one thing a struggle - the etiquette of networking.

What is the best way to decline an offer of friendship on Facebook? How often should I update my status -"Rory has eaten his toast and is now cleaning his teeth"? Do I want everyone to know my favourite band is Freddie and the Dreamers? And is it acceptable to check the Twitter updates on your phone at the breakfast table?

The answer to the last one, according to my wife, is obvious: "I don't let the kids play with their Gameboys at the table - so you can put that damn thing down..."

Too much information?

But the biggest decision to make is just how much you want to share with your online friends.

The news feed from my Facebook network has just told me that "Jake X and Claudia Y are now in a relationship". Well, I'm very happy for them - but will they want me to know if, God forbid, that relationship ends?

My new friends have been far more forthcoming about their lives than I would want to be.

Freddie Garrity of Freddie and the Dreamers
Should Rory's FaceBook friends know about his favourite band?

George's Facebook profile tells me he is Conservative, his five favourite songs are by Queen, and there are 319 photos of him in various states of inebriation and fancy dress.

Tom is in an open relationship, has interests range from rock climbing to knowledge management and anthropology, and he lists a very catholic range of favourite music, including Vivaldi, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Better than Ezra.

Beth's relationship status is "complicated", her favourite films include Legally Blonde and Bambi - and she has 265 friends at university who know all about that.

Deleting your boss

At school and university everyone knows everyone, but networkers carrying on their habit into the workplace face a new dilemma: Can my boss be my friend?

My workplace, for all its apparent first-name free-and-easy ways, is actually pretty hierarchical.

"What do I do?" asked one colleague nervously.

"The boss has just become my friend on Facebook - what will he think if I delete him?"

Man playing golf
Is FaceBook the new golf?

Could Facebook and MySpace become the virtual equivalent of the pub and the golf course where careers can be made and then broken?

In the online world, some of the subtlety of our real life networks is lost.

One friend summed it up nicely.

"The real problem with Facebook," he messaged me, "is that there are no gradations. So all my friends are now in one virtual space, whereas in the real world they are carefully grouped and separated."

Another person had this dilemma: "I had an ex-girlfriend try to contact me the other day on Facebook to become her friend."

The separation had been amicable, he explained, but he had no desire to restart the friendship.

"But there is an incredible guilt in not doing so - and the other person may think ill of you...."

So my latest status update reads: "Rory is thinking about writing an etiquette guide for the nervous networker......"

Oh, and I must change my profile to reflect my love of Dostoevsky and Wagner.


SEE ALSO
Too old for networking?
25 May 07 |  Technology
How to make friends on Facebook
29 May 07 |  Technology
Hyper-connected generation rises
09 May 07 |  Technology

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