The Oxford English Dictionary defines friendship as “the emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends.”

I have always taken friendship seriously, and I believe I have to work on friendship as I work on everything else. A couple of years ago, I started to wonder if I applied these criteria to online friendship.

I understand that online relationships are less restrained and encompass an entire spectrum from acquaintance to friendship. Nevertheless, I forced myself to treat friendship in the digital world as in the real world, so I run a sort of experiment throughout the last two years.

I chose a simple excuse to privately contact each friend on Facebook at least once a year: the birthday. Something along the lines of “Happy birthday! 🙂 How are you?”—I kept it simple.

Unfortunately, I could not do this with everyone every time for obvious reasons: some people do not record their birthdate on Facebook, and sometimes I was not able to access Facebook for one or more days; e.g., due to work or travelling. Yet, I got in touch with people I had not heard from in a while, especially those living outside Norway. Here is what I discovered:

  • Few people have a Facebook profile but do not use it. They have never received my message.
  • Some people are less polite than others. They received and read my message but have never replied. At most, they wrote a generic acknowledgement to all friends on their profile.
  • Several people are less keen than others on keeping in touch. They replied to my message with a politically correct “Thanks!”
  • Surprisingly many people are in fact keen on keeping in touch. Even those I had not heard from in ages, replied to my message enthusiastically and we updated each other about our lives.

Lesson learned: concentrate on quality over quantity, even with your friends online. You may be positively surprised as well!