Saturday, September 12, 2009

COLUMN: I can buy a little help from my friends

I’ve decided I need more friends. No, not real-life friends, the ones that you see in person and who occasionally ask you to help them move. That’s far too much work.

I’m talking about Facebook friends, those people with whom your interactions are basically limited to finding out which musical instrument they are (“the sousaphone!”) and whether or not they’ve murdered anybody in Mafia Wars. Well, and sometimes they also put up pictures of their families. Those are the ones you “hide.”

Ha ha! I kid my Facebook friends. Currently I am stalled at 243 of them; some are even people whose actual company I used to enjoy before I realized how much more time-effective it was to maintain all your personal relationships over the Internet. (Which reminds me … Mom, check your wall for a post about sending more money.)

It’s a relatively miniscule number compared to the maximum allowed friend count of 5,000, so you can imagine how happy I was to get an e-mail with the subject line, “Facebook Friends Go On Sale.” I haven’t been this excited about an e-mail since the one that said “WORLD’S GREATEST COLON CLEANSER — SEE PROOF!,” although in that case I decided to take their word for it.

The e-mail refers you to a site called uSocial, which notes, “Since the inception of Facebook, people have been feverishly trying to get as many friends as they can in order to market their product or services to.” I’m pretty sure there’s an extra word in that sentence somewhere, but grammar aside, it surprised me — all along I thought Facebook was a way to connect with actual, real friends, so you could share your embarrassing pictures of your other real friends.

“But you don’t have a large following on Facebook, do you?” uSocial then asks, somehow sensing that we are all losers who might as well be marketing our product or services to the two dozen cats with whom we share our apartment. That’s where they come in.

“On average … every Facebook fan or friend you have is generally worth $1 to you per month,” they claim, proving once and for all that Facebook friends are worth more to you than actual friends. After all, how many real friends do you have that spent $1 on you last month? If they invited you somewhere and you had to bring a bottle of wine, that means they cost you $6.50.

So they say with your purchase of 1,000 friends for $177.30, you’ll earn back your money five times over. It sounds terrific, but still, the offer raises some questions — for one thing, who are all these uSocial people willing to be friends with anybody who has a spare $177.30? They have no problem playing Bejeweled Blitz in front of thousands of strangers? It sounds trashy to me.

Also, is there any way we can make this work to buy 1,000 actual, flesh-and-blood friends, each of whom can come over my house once a month and give me a dollar? If they’re willing to do that, they can be whatever the heck instrument they want.

Well, as tempting as the offer sounds, I think I’ll continue to keep my Facebook friends primarily to people I at least sort-of know. For instance, I recently used Facebook to help set up a real, in-person meeting with some old college friends and their actual real-life kids — we got together in my backyard and talked, which is sort of like exchanging status updates, except less pithy. No products or services were marketed, but the kids played baseball, which was somehow fun even though nobody got murdered or bejeweled.

Seems to me that’s a good use of Facebook, even with 243 measly friends. And I was able to use it afterwards to post pictures of us all getting together, so the real-life friends who couldn’t make it would at least see those.

Um … Unless of course they hid me. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many “Likes” from Mom lately …

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England; this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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