Categorizing social connections

By Johannes Ernst


Social networking websites categorize the people I might be related to into:

  • those I am (bi-directional) “friends” with;
  • those that I follow (but they don’t follow me back), and vice versa;
  • those that are related to my friends, but not me directly;
  • those whose stuff the social network overlords think you should know about it (that includes advertisers)
  • everybody else.

This categorizing seems contrary to the way non-dysfunctional human relationships work. What is a better categorization? Here is my version:

  • My close family and friends. These are the people have the key to my house; they live in my house or are welcome all the time, and will help out no matter what the time of night it might be. I’ll call them Family, whether we have common genes or not.

  • Next are the people that I know well, but who I wouldn’t normally give a key to my house. I know them well because I have worked with them, I have had fun with them, I know a bit about their life history, I have some idea about their families and what they worry about. Traditionally, that would be an actual village but in times of the internet, people may live far away. It may include my neighborhood, my congregation, my political faction, or people I have done projects with. I call them my Village.

  • Beyond that is my Tribe. That’s people with whom I share a clear interest, although I may know many members of my tribe only by name, or not at all. This would include people of the same faith or Weltanschauung as I have, people in the same town, of the same profession or political persuasion with a similar value system.

  • And there is everybody else, the World.

There may be one more tier between tribe and world, sort of on a country level. Other than by allegiance to the same government (or grudging acceptance of the same government?), I’m having some difficulties to define this tier, so I’m leaving it out of this post.

Worth noting is that I can be member of several of those groupings. For example, I can be member of several Villages (my home town vs my college town) or Tribes (say, my politics and my passion for electronics). Or maybe the better way of looking at it would be to use this categorization only from my point of view; what is a single Village to me may not be a single Village to anybody else.

I’m sure social science has lots of categorizations like that. Not being a social scientist, what am I missing in this home-grown version?