MMO Theorycrafting 23 Comments

Twitter, Blogging, and the Depth of Online Friendships

There’s been a bit of discussion going around for the last few days about online friendships. Most of the talk has been between Belghast and Braxwolf, with Bel writing that he treats online friends the same as offline friends and Brax doubting that online friendships can have the same depth as those found offline.

I have strong opinions on this topic!

Twitter sucks at depth

Brax’s post in particular seems to focus on Twitter as the primary avenue of online socializing, and how poorly it does in that role. And in this case I think Brax is totally correct because Twitter is absolutely terrible at in-depth communication. It’s also, I would argue, not what it was designed to do.

Twitter is a constant stream of information. Tweets are fairly impermanent — while a tweet does exist in archived form, as they slide down the front page of our Twitter clients we become less and less likely to read them. Trying to keep up with your Twitter stream at all times is not how it was intended to be used, and will probably just make you feel frantic and perpetually left behind. I found that I enjoyed the network much more when I accepted that lots of stuff would be said while I was away from a screen, and that’s okay.

Twitter is really great for meeting people with similar interests. It’s a great medium for telling funny jokes. It’s a really good way to get a general survey of impressions, and catch breaking news from around the world. Twitter was invaluable to me during the Ferguson protests, for example, because I was able to listen to a number of people who were on the ground and get first-hand information.

On the other hand, 140 characters on Twitter is not a great way to form deep friendships. I agree with Brax there.

Other online methods of communication do not suck at depth

I think Brax’s post did a disservice to online friendships by focusing on Twitter when there are a myriad of other alternatives that people use every day.

For example, for the last 5 years I’ve spent almost every workday hanging out in an IRC channel with the same half dozen-ish people. Some days we have a lot to talk about, from politics to travel plans to how to best get stains out of a carpet. Other days we just say hi and complain about the local weather. A few of these people I have never met in person, although some I have. I have never even seen a photo of one of these people! And yet this group is contained in my “inner circle” of friends. If any one of these folks needed me to inconvenience myself to help them out, I would do so without hesitation.

As for the concept that we can never really know someone from only their online communication… well, that’s just not true. Not to pick on Brax, but he doesn’t share a lot about his offline life and just from reading his blog and listening to his podcasts I can tell that he’s literate, kind, reliable, community- and family-minded, likes gadgets, and we both enjoy writing and playing MMOs. Those are pretty darn good qualifications for being my friend, and I would think the same whether I met him online or offline. Best buddies? Of course not! But a friend for sure.

And that’s not even getting into non-text communication. Guilds often spend hours together talking via voice chat, and YouTube has had the greatest growth of any social network, particularly among the younger demographics. I not only type at my online friends, I listen to their podcasts and watch their videos. I have Hangouts with them where we play tabletop games together, and follow their Spotify playlists of music that’s important to them.

You get what you give

So how do Brax and I disagree so much on the potential depth of online friendships? After much pondering, I think it’s safe to say that you get out of your online friendships what you feel prepared to put into them. Some people are totally satisfied with their offline friendships and aren’t really interested in doing the same online for whatever reason. And that’s perfectly okay!

Others, such as myself and Bel (I assume), actively look to develop online friendships. We write about our lives on our blogs, we worry about people on Twitter when they sound sad. We reach out over different media to people, and we feel kinship with folks who we encounter online and meet our individual requirements for basic friendship. (Similar interests, smarts, and a kind nature in my case.)

All in all, I disagree with the idea that online friendships cannot achieve the same depth as offline friendships. It seems more accurate to me to say that some people are not looking for depth in their online friendships, and therefore it does not exist for them. And that’s totally, absolutely fine, to each their own and yadda yadda, but those two are not the same thing.

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  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Excellent post Liore. I think you hit the nail on the head that I somehow missed. Brax did seem to be almost solely focused on Twitter, and while it acts as great social lubrication… it doesn’t serve for much depth. People met on twitter rarely become life long friends until you take it to some other level. Be that sharing a guild together, or hanging out on voice chat or even swapping email or instant messenger information. I think the difference is like you said, that because we go into twitter expecting friendships to boom beyond it… we look for it and are also more open to it happening.
    belghast´s last post: Games I Want to Revisit

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 16, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Thanks Bel! I was worried about coming across as speaking for you, so I’m glad you liked the post. :)

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    My carefully crafted self-brand has you all fooled! IRL, I’m mean and I hate MMO’s. And People. And Children.


    Good post, as always. This is how a civil debate is supposed to happen. I’m glad your online relationships have worked out for both you and Bel!
    Braxwolf´s last post: The Pro’s and Con’s of Online Social Constructs

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 16, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Braxwolf, Master of Disguise!

      Thanks for reading and taking it in the spirit of lively discussion. I’m glad your offline relationships have worked out, too!

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Warning. Incoming mini-novel.

    I think that communication technology keeps changing so fast, the connections we make with others online have also changed. The examples with Twitter – I may see more about someone on my Twitter stream. The tweets about thoughts and little things that happen through the day. It’s a fragmented sense of the person behind it, and until I spend time really chatting with someone, I feel like I’m only getting tiny glimpses of who they really are.

    There’s so much information from so many different people. I can understand why it may seem these days that online connections may be more shallow in the light of such things. I think that’s why I pick and choose who I follow and how much my stream tells me, because otherwise, I’d be lost trying to understand so many people at once.

    It was over a decade ago… 13-14 years I believe… I met my still best friend online. We have maintained a long-distance friendship, and are more like sisters, even over the years. But this connection was made over a decade ago, when there was no Twitter, Tumblr, social media or constant tugs at attention. AIM was pretty new back then, and voice chat was just starting to become a reality.

    We still talk just about every night. She knows me better than most people do IRL, by far. The net allows someone shy like me to associate with a friend consistently without being overwhelmed (I’m a mega-introvert). And we do try to meet up IRL at least once a year, usually around the New Year, which is always fun.

    My younger sister met her husband online over a decade ago, too. Again, during a time when there was no social media, many connections were made in hours of chatting in online chat rooms or social-type games.

    I used to build my own communities during this time, through forums and email lists. I know two couples that met through the online communities I created who have married – both having moved across the country, or to another country completely, to be together. Again, these connections were made over a decade ago, when such small communities could actually grow and thrive.

    Over the years, I’ve made connections with several long-time friends through my creative projects. Especially my webcomics and webfiction. These people may not be super-knowledgeable about my RL situations, but they’ve stuck around my sites, communicated with me for many years, and some even blog along with me on our collaborative blogging project. These people have been in my life longer than a lot of the folks I know IRL. I’ve seen some of them grow up from young teens to adults – it’s pretty crazy! :)
    Aywren´s last post: Introductory Post… Several Years too late…

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      Hooray for meeting people online!

      My partner is someone I met as a friend 7 years ago while playing World of Warcraft, so I admit that I’m a pretty big believer in the power of online friendships and relationships. :)

      • Reply
        February 16, 2015 at 5:43 pm

        At the risk of sounding argumentative, if the same level of depth and intimacy of the relationship with your partner could be achieved either online or off, then why did you move in order to be physically together?
        Braxwolf´s last post: The Pro’s and Con’s of Online Social Constructs

        • Reply
          Jessica Cook
          February 16, 2015 at 5:47 pm

          You’re equating friendship and being in a romantic, lifetime partnership. (Note that my post — and I thought yours — was pretty firmly focused on the former.)

          I can think of a few major differences in intimacy levels between friends and romantic partners just off the top of my head, and I bet you can too. :P

          • Braxwolf
            February 16, 2015 at 5:57 pm

            I believe that my post was focused on relationships as a whole, and the depth attainable in online vs. offline. I can think of no deeper friendship than the one I share with my wife – and this depth would not be maintainable in an online-only scenario. In Bel’s concentric circles, she would be in the center circle, while my closest friends might also be, or one immediately encompassing it. At any rate, I would want at least occasional physical contact with all of them, because it’s more personal, or more real, or at the very least “different” than online-only, which was kind of the point I was trying to make.

          • Jessica Cook
            February 16, 2015 at 6:27 pm

            I dunno Brax, I feel like you’re moving the goalposts here. Is it impossible to create a deep friendship that becomes a romantic partnership entirely online? Not at all. In fact, I just did exactly that. Is it difficult and unlikely that a couple could maintain their romantic partnership over online-only means? Certainly, yes. You have narrowed the focus from the 150 people in Dunbar’s Number to single digits, or gone from “can you make real friends online” to “can a romantic partnership survive over time with only contact over the internet”. Those are two very different questions.

            I understand the point that you were trying to make. At this juncture the disdain that you hold for online friendships is very clear.

          • Aro
            February 16, 2015 at 8:10 pm

            If you want to hike across the field that way: dude, people have long-distance romantic relationships all the time. Were my parents LESS married when my dad was deployed overseas for many years and magically become more married when he got home?
            Aro´s last post: A Formal Apology

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    I agree it’s about what you put into it yourself which is also good advice for new bloggers looking to get in touch with the community. That and I’ve also found it’s best not to ‘count’ what goes and comes around – just do it. My circle of friends IRL pretty much relies on me to take initiative and get us together more often than not. For a time this vexed me a great deal and made me question the quality of our friendships but then I realized that we all have our strengths and well, mine is to get things into motion. We have such a great time when we actually get together each time, that’s all I need to know.

    As for strictly online, I think there’s times I agree with you Liore in that there is no difference but there’s also times I am skeptical like Brax. :) This is mostly due to my own experiences with meeting very close guild mates irl – I think that hurt my perception somewhat. But then I realized, I like and accept all of my friendships just the way they are: IRL is IRL, blogging is blogging and twitter is twitter. I don’t need to compare them or secondguess their nature – as long as it gives me good feels or I am able to send goodfeels to somebody else, that’s what matters right?
    Syl´s last post: On Rock Paper Shotgun and “that” Molyneux Interview

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      February 16, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      In the original draft of this post I had a story about you! A little over a year ago you knew I was going to be having a tough day for offline reasons, and you wrote a really sweet #FF that morning for me. I don’t think I mentioned it at the time, but when I read that tweet it reminded me that there are people out there wishing me well, and it TOTALLY made the whole day a little better. It was just a little thing and you of course didn’t know all of the gory details of what was going on in my life, but you took a moment to make my day brighter at a time when I really needed it.

      That’s friendship, right there. Who cares if it’s an online friend or an offline friend or a football friend or a WoW friend or whatever. :)

      • Reply
        Syl (@Gypsy_Syl)
        February 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

        Indeed it is! Thanks for letting me know about this :)

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    You could definitely extrapolate this to MMO communities as well!

    One of the things that makes me gnash my teeth and want to tear my hair out is people complaining that they don’t feel like they belong to any community, that there’s no one around to play with them or become friends with, that everyone’s off doing their own thing and they don’t feel any sense of connection, yadda, yadda.

    Then when you poke deeper, it turns out that all they’ve done is log on, solo a bit for 30 minutes and log off without ever bothering to a) talk to anyone or b) look for an established community to join and so on. Then they lament they would like a game that forces everyone to touch base with them or require them in order to progress.

    Eeesh, I want to tell them, take some initiative and go find what you’re looking for. My social priority is way third behind exploring and achieving, but even I can find the average amount of socializing I need, because I go look for people like Syl, who have natural strengths at starting stuff, gathering people, etc. and just join those gatherings.
    Jeromai´s last post: Evolve: Short Impressions

    • Reply
      February 16, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      I certainly agree, but I do miss the times when games were a little more suitable for this. With the way servers and queues work now, strangers come in and out of your avatar’s life quite rapidly and often forever. Plus, so many other players are stuck on their phones, alt-tabbing to Twitter, or in Vent with their already established core.

      I definitely think people need to take more initiative, but MMOs just don’t seem as social to me as they once were.
      Murf´s last post: Terraria: Otherworld – No, I haven’t had enough Terraria yet.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    “All in all, I disagree with the idea that online friendships cannot achieve the same depth as offline friendships. It seems more accurate to me to say that some people are not looking for depth in their online friendships, and therefore it does not exist for them. And that’s totally, absolutely fine, to each their own and yadda yadda, but those two are not the same thing.”

    You’re absolutely right. I think the big transition for me was moving from home, not necessarily with my old friends in tow, and having to establish online relationships with them in lieu of something more “real”. When compare to friends I had only ever known via the Internet, it didn’t seem all that different to me, especially since I conducted myself in largely the same way.

    Nowadays, I am pretty much myself in either setting, so I can make serious friends online and off. And, frankly, I am looking for new friends and like-minded individuals everywhere I go because they are so incredibly rare!
    Murf´s last post: Terraria: Otherworld – No, I haven’t had enough Terraria yet.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    This is anecdotal of course, and therefore not real data, but I’d say (and this is data, since it’s math) easily 1/2 my actual, real life now, friends started out as online friends. And (this is science, not anecdotal), I met my wife online, and not through some stupid server, but first as a friend that developed into something more. Aaaand, all that before 1994. So it wasn’t called “the internet” back then but all the other stuff is 100% accurate as 8 bits can be.

    And I’m not alone. There simply isn’t a lot of publicity or data surrounding this, aside from occasional simpering local news pieces about nerds getting married in Norath or somesuch. But it’s there, it’s real, and there’s probably actual data on it if someone were to investigate in real terms. I, for one, would be fascinated to see what kind of GENUINE relationships formed before things like MATCHONTHEINTERNET.COM (1) came out.

    Ultimately, both sides are wrong. Wrong, because they chose absolute answers to a question that has no absolute answers.

    (1) The names of online dating sites have been changed to protect potential litigants.
    Grimmtooth´s last post: Buy a drink for your cranky weird uncle Alex

  • Reply
    February 17, 2015 at 6:28 am

    I absolutely agree with you, and I’m right there with you and Bel in actively wanting to form friendships online. Some I’m happy to keep to mere chatter over instant messager chat or voice comms, occasionally sharing a thought or belief but mostly keeping things light. Others I really like forming a connection with and I’m happy to do that with folk worldwide. :) I love my friends to pieces, online and offline, close or not so much. They all mean a lot to me.
    Jaedia´s last post: In Which I Get Angry About Sexual Objectification

  • Reply
    Roger Edwards
    February 17, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Is this a bad time to point out I have a range of action figures coming out?
    Roger Edwards´s last post: It Follows (2014)

  • Reply
    Friendly Bytes | Welshtroll
    February 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    […] I recently followed the Twitter conversation and blog posts the last week which focused on discussion around online friendships, what they mean to people, experiences and how they rank against real-life relationships. You can read them here : Belghast – Braxwolf – Liore – ContainsModeratePeril […]

  • Reply
    February 18, 2015 at 8:37 am

    I’m aware of 6 couples that have gotten together as a result of WoW, you make number 7.

    People have been meeting each other in a variety of disfunctional ways since the beginning of time. High school and college are a few decades behind many of us. I’m not sure why forums, twitter, and MMOs are perceived as being different than meeting at church or work.

    I’m not quite sure why meeting someone in a bar is considered more normal and acceptable than meeting them online.

    • Reply
      February 18, 2015 at 8:54 am

      I’m not quite sure why meeting someone in a bar is considered more normal and acceptable than meeting them online.


      Always seemed an odd way to spend one’s time!
      Grimmtooth´s last post: Buy a drink for your cranky weird uncle Alex

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