Friends I've Never Met

March 15, 2008 By: erik Category: Internet, Musings, Weird 1,022 views

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One year ago, today, some guy I had never met in Slovenia, who you all know as sgazzetti, left a comment on my blog. It was informative, funny, and knocked me down off my high horse, three qualities that I still admire in him, and in all friends generally. I checked out his blog, and found the most recent posts to be entertaining, so I subscribed to his RSS feed. Over the next few weeks, he left more comments at my blog, and I left some at his. It was so strange to me that, A) someone I’d never met would be interested enough in my ramblings to visit my blog every couple days, and B) that I might do the same for someone I’d never met. I’d never gotten to know someone via blogging before.

There are two fundamental principles in blogging that enable what happened next. The first is that, when you leave a comment, you may optionally leave the url of your own blog. The second is that RSS makes it so easy to “subscribe” to a blog, which results in you getting notified whenever a new post is published. What happened was that I noticed that there were a dozen or so regulars that commented on sgazzetti’s posts. Whenever a commenter struck me as particularly insightful, funny, or interesting, I could click on their link and go see that person’s blog. Some of them seemed more interesting than others. I subscribed to the interesting ones and began reading them daily. Soon, I found that these people were coming to my blog and leaving comments as well. Later, I discovered that most of these people had never met each other either! They had all just gone through the same process I’ve described of starting a blog, finding or being found by another person via normal internet searches, and using the commenting and subscribing features of all blogs.

I now follow the lives of people in Minneapolis, Arlington, Brussels, and Slovenia Bulgaria. I’m subscribed to many more blogs than these, but this particular group is interconnected. Each of these people read and comment on each others’ blogs. Sometimes these relationships even extend into the physical realm. I have sent and received packages to and from several of these blog friends. The most famous of these packages, of course, has its own blog.

If you had told me one year ago that I would actually feel some emotional attachment to complete strangers like this, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it. And what’s even more amazing is that these “virtual” friends really do scratch a social itch. The feeling is very much like that in my other friendships, it’s just that we don’t meet up on Saturday night for scheduled merrymaking. Obviously in real life friends are important too. Nothing illustrates that better than this comic.

Probably the most amazing culmination of this phenomenon is that some words that I wrote on this very blog resulted in one of my fellow bloggers, Simon, taking a trip across the Atlantic last weekend. Amazing.

I just thought I’d explain what’s happened here in the last year, so that my friends and family, that actually have met me, can have some clue about who all these people are. When I was visiting the States last month, several people asked me, “Who is this ‘spaghetti’ guy that’s always commenting on your blog?” Well, now you know.

  • All I can say is “hear, hear”. I’ve had the same experience, in temrs of how I went about meeting people, and how I reacted to it. I assumed that my blog would be pretty much just for myself and a couple of my existing friends who were online, whereas in fact the tiny little “community” that’s grown up around it is one of the most surprising and gratifying things about the whole endeavour.
    And yes, I also get annoyed when people talk about online life versus “real” life, as if this is all just a Sims-style game, as if we weren’t really connecting with other people.

  • I cannot remember how most of my online community found its way to me and how I found them. I assume this should bother me but it doesn’t, as it just seems part of the organic networking process.

    I like my blog community as well, despite your continuing presence in it.* With a tiny handful of exceptions, my online community is comprised of people I have never met. I consider you all to be real friends. Not online friends or some other ridiculous qualifier, but actual honest-to-god friends. Even that spaghetti guy.

    *I kid!

  • paola

    I must say that when Simon started talking about what I thought where his imaginary friends I was a bit worried… So I started reading you too, and soon realised that there are some pretty real qualities in these friendships!
    Then of course you totally won me over with the New York trip 😉

  • Yay! I’m in complete agreement; this is a pretty special little group we’ve constructed here. Long may it continue, and here’s hoping we can all meet physically sooner or later too.

  • The most famous of these packages, of course, has its own blog.

    That sentence cracked me up.

    Another layer of the whole thing is Flickr, and the fact that you can also subscribe via RSS to your contacts’ photos. Seeing, as well as reading, adds to the sense of ‘knowing’ someone you’ve never met.

    I agree about the ‘social itch/scratch’ element, and for me it’s especially gratifying because I have a pretty limited ‘real life’ social circle at the moment.

    Two of my four siblings are ‘internet people’ (you’ll have seen comments on isoglossia from them posting as Elsa and gaoo, and you’ve probably worked out that they’re my sisters). The other two are emphatically not, and as far as I know they have never read my blog or seen my Flickr photos. So you and some of your readers know more about my sons’ lives than their own aunt and uncle do. This both makes me sad and fills me with a sense of awe at the internet’s social power.

  • mp

    I could not have said that any better..we’re having a local bloggy get together this weekend w/ 15 people I’ve never met face to face..yet I KNOW them! Non bloggers just don’t get it!

  • Bri

    That’s so great, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Makes me want to print it out and hand it to any of my non-blogging friends who look at me funny when I mention a blog friend. 😉

  • Thanks, mp and Bri!

  • bawa

    call you next time we are on our way to somo…?