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Monetising Friendship

In which FP wants to sell all his friends something they don’t really need


I’m inviting a few friends round one night. We’ll have a few drinks, a bit of a laugh, and I’ll show them a pile of stuff that I’m trying to sell. Hopefully, they’ll buy some, and I’ll make a tidy profit.

NB: the above paragraph is not actually true. I am not going to do this, and I don’t have anything to sell.* As a scenario, though, it’s a pretty common one. People all over the place are handing out Avon catalogues, Christmas hamper brochures, and organising parties for Foreverware storage; or cheap-looking expensively-priced nylon lingerie and sex toys. It makes me wonder: do some people really value money that much over friendship, that they see their friends as a source of income?

On the face of it, evidently so. I hope that maybe I’m just being pessimistic in my analysis. Maybe the people organising these events really do mostly believe that they’re doing their friends a favour, giving them the opportunity to buy Impressive Things at almost-bargain prices; and the money they make back for themselves doesn’t really make any difference to them. Certainly, in the true “multi-level marketing” organisations that are scarcely different to pyramid schemes, most of the bottom-rung salesforce are unlikely to come out of it in profit. On the other hand: I have known people, setting up these events, to excitedly say: “and it means that I can buy them for myself, cheap!” It makes me slightly uncomfortable, seeing people trying to use their friends in this way: it’s more than a little manipulative.

In one way, this is the root of the current fashionable trends in marketing: using the social network to save the marketeers the hard work. Viral marketing, for example, where you, J. Random Netuser, sends the latest cool advert you’ve seen on to all your friends: you receive a frisson of group-bonding pleasure in return for doing an ad agency’s work for free, just as if you’d invited them all round to your house to sell them the product. Facebook games are also similar: little money-churning devices that you, game player, spread awareness of among your social network. Maybe it’s going to become a long-term trend: I suspect the reason it’s so popular is that, after all, it’s cheap; or, at least, the costs are passed on to other people and other companies. It’s slightly different, too, to selling things directly to your friends through a catalogue or at a party: if you’re playing Farmville, your Facebook friends might have to put up with being told how your farm’s doing every few hours, but that’s as far as it goes. You’re not expected to buy things, yourself, until after you’ve been sucked in. You’re not expected to make your friends money, directly.

Maybe that’s the reason I feel so uncomfortable about this technique of monetising friendship: it is about directly turning your social relationships into monetary ones. It probably works best in social networks with a clear or semi-open hierarchy, because it’s potential very much about reinforcing that social hierarchy with money. I know such hierarchical social networks exist – I see them everywhere – but I do tend to feel that the world would be a nicer place if they didn’t.

* Although, if I was going to do that, I suppose we could always knock up some “I visited Symbolic Towers and all I could buy was this beautiful high-quality clothing product” t-shirts.

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Good friends

In which we think suicide clusters are overhyped; and try not to be a drama llama


There’s been a lot in the news recently about young people killing themselves, allegedly to draw attention to themselves online. The whole story seems slightly odd, with little evidence for it, but it’s been raised by an MP so it got itself in the news. Most of the people in the alleged suicide cluster are young men, the highest-risk suicide group. I fully support raising suicide awareness and suicide prevention, but it seems rather like fear-mongering to try to place blame on social networking. There were teen suicides and “suicide clusters” years ago, long before social networking was invented.

I know from experience that suicidal feelings are something which people should always take seriously, and that internet messaging, by both its speed and lack of emotion, could easily make worse. But nevertheless – and because it is that serious – I don’t like the feel of people jumping on the exaggeration bandwagon without evidence, or trying to use the threat of others’ suicide to gallop off on their own over-dramatic high horse.* I’ve been on the internet for a while now,** I was a chatroom user quite a lot when I was a student, and I’ve seen people come into chatrooms and make darkly deniable threats like: “you shouldn’t be so nasty to X. If you keep being nasty to people in here and people end up dying, how would you feel?” Whether X is in the pits of depression, or just mildly irked, and whatever your intentions are, that’s a childish and nasty thing to do.

If you’re a friend to someone, and you think they’re being upset because of people on the internet, then the only thing to do is get them offline. Get them to put down the keyboard, go outside, and get some fresh air. Go and take away their network cable yourself if you really have to. But don’t just go around telling other people what they’re about to do. Don’t go around trying to amplify the drama, because people are only going to think that at heart you’re trying to make yourself the centre of attention. If you’re a real friend, go and help them, quietly and without fuss. Because help is what friends are for.

* or “drama llama”, as one internet friend memorably said.

** I can’t believe it’s over ten years since I first got online. The internet was in black and white back in those days – no, really: this was on a Macintosh Classic II, one of the last black and white only Apple models.

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Popularity

In which we wonder how useful social networking is


Chatting to Vee last night, she said: maybe she should cut down on social websites. She showed me the list of sites she’s got profiles on. Seventeen. Maybe she’s overdoing it a little. I have at least five at the last count, at least one of which lies derelict and abandoned.

Gordon, too, recently wrote about this. There are so many social websites out there that, if you’re not careful, they become nothing more than a time-sink. Or, the other extreme; you leave abandoned profiles scattered across the internet like so much silent litter.

Now, social interaction has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks, ever since my friend Maz called me an ignorant and antisocial git. This was largely because I hadn’t popped round to put up some shelves for her like I’d promised; but she’s not the only person to have complained that I don’t keep in touch with my friends as much as I should do. The solution to that, though, isn’t networking websites with long lists of “friends”. What’s missing is deep interaction. Going on Facebook to throw a sheep at someone is meaningless; writing them a letter or two is what counts.

Sites like Facebook are kind of pointless, except as an address book and a distraction. At least, they’re pointless as far as building up real, meaningful relationships are concerned. The social sites that are useful, though, are the ones which have some genuine purpose other than being a list of friends. Last.FM,* for example, or Flickr. I’ve always been too lazy to upload photos to Flickr, although I keep meaning to. I have a backlog of photos going back about a year, that are unsorted and mostly unseen; occasionally I dribble a few onto this site. So, I’m going to use Flickr more.** I’m going to spend more effort on the friends and acquaintances I already have, rather than collect more I don’t really know. I’m going to stick with the social networks I have, but only because, hopefully, I might become less of an ignorant git in the future. The only way to do that is with real interaction, not a quick Facebook poke.

* Well, it’s useful if you’re a music geek

** Partly because I’ve started playing with the maps. I love it. Photos and maps in one place – what more could a geek ask for?

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Follow-up

In which we explain why we were in France


Talking of Catherine and Arnaud, incidentally: they were the reason I was in France taking photos of over-priced salad cream last week. They were having a party; not an anniversary party, but a housewarming, or crémaillaire. That word, apparently, relates to an ancient French custom of hanging up a butter churn when moving into a new house. So I’m told, anyway: my French really isn’t up to much.* If you want to see photos, though, you can do.

* I can say “Je voudrais une grande tranche de gateau“, and, erm, that’s about it.

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Time

In which we commemorate things


While we’re on the subject of anniversaries:

Ten years ago, I remember waking up, in my little student flat by the university, the one with the tiny bedroom and the low, sloping ceiling that I never learned to stop banging my head on. I popped to the kitchen to get a drink; Flatmate Alan heard, and came out in his green paisley dressing gown.*

“Princess Diana’s died,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yes. They said so on the radio.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

I put the radio on, to protests, on to the local commercial pop station – and they were playing a funereal dirge. Odd. So then, we put the TV on, and found four channels of continous news.

Five years ago today, I woke up in a hotel in Paris,** recovering from Catherine and Arnaud’s wedding. I know which day I’d rather commemorate.

* Was it really green paisley? I definitely recall something dark green and patterned.

** Well, just outside Paris, in Poissy.

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Memories of the year (part two)

In which we remember a wedding


I found out later that it was quite a historic room, with all its mouldings and recherché cornicing. Back in the 1910s, when equality for women was all the rage, Sylvia Pankhurst held suffragette meetings there. I didn’t know this at the time, though.

W and P looked each other in the eyes, and kissed, and the congregation burst out into a long, long round of applause, so much so that the registrar was almost bowled away with the emotion. So much so, she started playing the Citizenship Ceremony tape instead of the Wedding Ceremony one, and the room was suddenly filled with the National Anthem.

I did write about W and P’s wedding at the time; but looking back ten months later, this is what sticks in my mind.

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Synchronicity

In which our luck is in


Strange things seem to be happening together at the moment.

Last weekend, without much else to do, I went down to a munch in Leicester. I met lots of people; and as the afternoon drifted into evening people wandered away until they were just three of us left. VW, who admits she used to be a bit goth; Fuzzy, who is so goth he wears Whitby-related t-shirts; and me, Forest “Some Of My Best Friends Are Goth” Pines.

Chatting away in a small group like that, you soon learn a lot about each other. We quickly discovered that we’d all lived up in Scotland, not far from each other, two or three years ago. Not just that, but – being all at least goth-related – we used to drink in the same pubs, go to the same clubs, and so on. We even knew the same people; but somehow we’d never actually been introduced before.* It’s a small world.

The other day, I was chatting to an online friend, F. I’ve never met F, but I know she has family connections in this area, and we’ve talked a bit about the region when we’ve had nothing better to say to each other. When I’d been ambling about between London and Leicester, F had been up here in my own parish, over at a family wedding. We discussed the wedding, the guests; and what school I’d been to, to see if any of the guests would have been people I knew. Indeed, they were. In fact, we worked out that the groom was someone I’d been at school with – someone I used to sit next to in at least one class, so far as I can remember. The best man, likewise was someone I knew. In fact, he was someone I mentioned here a couple of months back. It’s a very small world.

Yesterday, I was reading JPod,** the new Douglas Coupland book. And it includes this exchange:

“What a weird coincidence. I should go out and buy a lottery ticket.”

“How come?”

“Any time you have a coincidence happen to you, it means you’ve entered a luck warp–for the next short while everything you do will be touched by it.”

Maybe, I should be out buying lottery tickets myself. Luck Warp, here I come.

* Unless we were introduced, at some point when we were all so horribly drunk that none of us remembered afterwards. That’s very possible, at least in my case.

** it’s a horrible website unless you like Flash

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Predictive

In which we thank people and skim over a few other things


Well, I was glad Gordon Brown did take my hints on a couple of things.* I’m just disappointed that he didn’t single out blue cars for rebates.

Thanks to everyone who commented on Tuesday’s whining post, both on the site and privately. I’m still doomed, though. More on this to come soon, I’m sure, along with musings on those people who leave their abusive partners, only to go back to them a few months later. When they could easily find some much nicer people who aren’t abusive,** if they wanted.

Current small reasons to feel pleased with myself: I’ve managed to completely avoid watching anything at all to do with the Commonwealth Games, even though one of the medal-winners is a teacher at my old school. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep avoiding it until all the fuss is over again.

Current small reasons to get pissed off: the computer keeps crashing, usually at the most inappropriate moments. I know what the problem is: a very obscure bug in the disk controller driver which very few people have come across, and nobody seems to know the cause of.*** Bah.

On the other hand, I do have a large box of biscuits on my desk at the moment. But not for long, I suspect. Hurrah!

* although, to be fair, everyone else in the country had already vaguely guessed the road tax changes.

** ie, me, or Big Dave

*** it only comes up if you have a Promise SATA disk controller, a Maxtor SATA disk, and are running one of some Linux 2.6 subversions. But not all – the problem apparently disappeared in one revision of the driver, only to come back in the next.

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Return (again)

In which FP is back


I’m back. And, as soon as I get home almost, I’m back at the office.

If any of you want to see the rest of the wedding photos, you can – but you probably won’t find them very interesting unless you know the people involved.

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London Weekend Blogging: The Wedding

In which we celebrate


I had no idea what to expect at the wedding. I’ve, unsurprisingly, never been to a Civil Partnership Ceremony before; but equally, I’ve never been to any sort of civil wedding before.

The wedding started late, and the registrar seemed a little stressed. “Sorry for the delay,” she said, “but the couple at the previous wedding weren’t sure it was going ahead.” You could sense a long, long backstory behind that sentence.

The ceremony was short. W and P strode up the aisle together, and the registrar explained what they were getting into. They faced each other, and looked into each other’s eyes as they gave their declarations and vows. My eyes were slightly damp, and they received a long, long round of applause, which seemed to surprise the registrar. “You are a popular couple,” she said. And, bar the posing for photos, it was already over. W and P are Registered Partners. We all rolled out into the garden for champagne.

W and P posing with W's parents W and P outside the register office

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