As all technical wonders, it started with the delight of seeing how many people want to be your friend, some of whom you actually know. There was also the added titillation of all those MySpace friend requests from users with names like Lola, Estelle and Nichole.
Of course it all had to end in tears, as we found that our LinkedIn friends were only using us to get a new job, that our Facebook friends were only using us prove that they were still more popular than us and that our MySpace friends charged for their services.
Or in kindergarten terms, we have gone from wandering all over the playground asking everyone else, "will you be my friend" to the pre-emptive exclusion of sitting in the corner and declaring "you're not my friend" to all comers.
The behavior that constitutes friendship varies dramatically based on context. My favorite example was when my sister was in 2nd grade and arrived home announcing that she had a new boyfriend. When I asked her how she knew, she replied "he's my boyfriend because he threw a pear at me on the way home."
Every context has different rules for being "friends" - much of the fun of social media is that we are getting to live through a global learning process around the rules that apply to friendship in a variety of new communication environments. As Rob La Gesse points out here,
This goes back to "context" - something these social network sites are not managing very well. I should be able to check my levels of interest in various aspects of soccer (player, coach, parent, investor, etc) and communications and friend requests should take this information into account when handling requests.
ps Thanks to Shel Israel for kicking off this train of thought with a question he posted on Facebook here.