20 February 2009

I'll Be There for You

You know me, I love lists, categories, and anything that involves names and rankings. Well, here's a project I've been working on for some time. Ever since seeing this NBA Archetype Hierarchy, I've been wondering how such a model could apply to friendships.

Even if you don't know much about basketball, it can help to take a look and see how it's set up. There are five tiers, each containing a certain archetype coveted -- or not coveted -- by NBA teams. As you can see, the top tier is an elite point guard or a refined big man. Think Chris Paul and Shaquille O'Neal, respectively. Traditionally, finding a true superstar at either position will set your franchise up for success if you can surround them with the appropriate complementary parts. (Ignore the blue dot that is Lebron James; he's a freak and doesn't really fit into any archetype.) Basically, the NBA Archetype Hierarchy defines the types of players that are available and then orders which ones are more valuable -- and also harder to acquire.

Using those guidelines, I thought it'd be fun to construct a friendship archetype hierarchy. Personally, I've always maintained a strict rule of fives for my friendship pyramids. Five tiers ranging from super close friends to acquaintances. Five "best" friends. Five important people to fill communication routines (in person, phone call, email, text, AIM). I've always tossed around the idea of a hierarchy, we all do, I'm sure. What I haven't done is come up with archetypes, or roles, that my friends fulfill. Well, now I have.

Introducing my Friendship Archetype Hierarchy. Keep in mind that by definition, this would have to be individualized for each person. Mine won't look like yours and vice versa. It's impossible, there is no generic template. Some people have a bigger tier three than a tier two. Some people have a ton of super close friends, some people have a few. It's all dependent on what kind of person you are and how you've structured your social circle.

The point of such an exercise is to figure out what sorts of roles, and support systems, you need in your life. I mean, sometimes when you think something is missing (friendship wise), you can't figure out what it is exactly. You miss a specific person maybe but at the same time, what you're also missing is someone to fill their niche. Not to say that people are replaceable, because they're not, but having a broad view of the sorts of niches you require for maximum happiness should illuminate something about yourself.

I mean, if friends are a huge part of filling up our happiness meter, shouldn't they deserve just as much thought and study as our careers, relationships, and families? After all, friends contribute heavily to our hierarchy of needs don't they?

Lest you think that such an exercise is frivolous and entirely narcissistic, there's a lot of ramifications for figuring out how to create friend hierarchies. Think about the current state of social networking. You may have 300 Facebook friends but wouldn't it be nice for the program to somehow differentiate between tiers? I mean, Facebook gives you a few options to do that (by changing your privacy settings) but someday soon, social networking sites will start to group your friends automatically.
"Current social networks differ from reality on where action is required: In the real world, friendships fade because of inaction: He slowly stops calling and emailing as much, you don't think to invite him to your party. No one is to blame, it happens all the time.

But in the current online world, friendships can only end by action. Someone has to make the decision to actively de-friend the other. This feels intuitively slimy, and it's a waste of effort and attention on someone who by definition you aren't concerned with."
-Friend Decay: Social Networks need passive un-friending-
Also, this blog post from Adaptive Blue talks about a "hierarchy around friendships built on trust across verticals and subject matters: I trust this person on subject matter X, and this person on subject matter Y even though the network might trust Z." That's such an awesome point. There are broad tiers but then entirely different categories and networks.

The online catch all term "friend" will soon be spliced apart into its component parts, just like we do in the real world. That's the next step for social networking sites, once they can figure out how to get around the (admittedly thorny) problem of offending people who think they're closer to someone than they are. I mean, think of the fights that people already had over their MySpace Top Eight and multiply it. Whew, that's not going to be a fun feature to implement. But it'll be more honest, and revealing, wouldn't it?

One of the key phrases that gets thrown around is "trust relationships." Fundamentally, social networking is a great idea but currently it's too invasive and broad for some people. We want to have something that allows us to maintain our trust circles while remaining open to the possibility of staying in touch with random people. It's a very hard tightrope to walk. If you go too exclusive, you get Facebook in the earlier days, and not enough users. If you get too inclusive, you get the cluster fuck that is MySpace. Will Facebook find the answer? Will something new?

I hope somebody hires me to think about the dynamics of friendship all day long. Or maybe I should have studied this in school instead of whatever the hell I ended up studying...