Dave, I thank you for this post. Here it is, first-day morning and I'm blowing off another Quaker meeting due to rainy weather, a mild cold, things to do, and the fact that I'm not a great Friend I guess. What better circumstances to reflect on what it means to be lower-case "f" friend?
Dave Winer expresses a very tightly coupled view of friendship. I suspect that an assertion of friendship from Dave carries with it fierce loyalty and affection, an affirmative bond. Dave says, "...a friend is someone I trust to be with me when I am at my weakest and most vulnerable. And they are people who, no matter how painful it is to see, are willing to be with me when I am so helpless and weak. If I would trust my life with you, and vice versa, we are friends."
I get that. For me, that would describe what I think of as a "trusted friend." But my view of friendship is I think broader than that. In nature, as in life, there are strong forces and weak forces. Dave writes about a friendship that is like the strong force binding neutrons and protons together in the atomic nucleus. My view includes weaker forces, like gravity.
One of the great drawbacks of social networks like FlickR or Orkut or Friendster is the database requirement of classifying the nature of the relationship. Friend? Close friend? Antagonist? Real jerk? Sycophant? Degenerate? Relationships are cool or warm, antagonistic or cordial. Classifying relationships is embarrassing at best.
If I'm willing to hook-up with you at all on a social network, I'm generally willing to call us friends. But, out of respect for how you manage your database and the face you show the world, I'll be happy not to be too effusive.
One of the points Dave makes relates to the artificial nature of net relationships, the false intimacy that we sometimes infer to be real. I know many people through my blog. Though I've never met them, I'm glad to call them friends. I have also met many people face-to-face because I blog and I'm happy to call them friends as well. Yet most of these are "weak force" relationships. You guys know who you are and you are hereby absolved of any requirement to bring flowers to the hospital room.
Now take McD. Here's a person who is generally a nice guy, smart, witty, charming. What he writes often speaks to me. I don't know him as a person, in fact his identity is shielded from me behind his conscious anonymity, but I'm okay with calling him friend. For all I know, he's not really my friend. For all I know he has sent an arsonist to burn down my barn. But I think I won't dwell on that. I think I'll welcome the relationship and if it matures and/or strengthens, that's great! If not, so what?
Or take Brian... here's another person I've never met, but whom I admire due to the fact that he's consistently funny, on the money politically and ethically, a good writer, and a genius to boot. Unlike McD, Brian isn't an anonymous presence. But then... it's the Year of the Dog, and on the Internets... well, you know what they say.
The title of this post is sort of tongue-in-cheek. Dave's essay goes to great lengths to limit the set of his true friends. But -- bear with me, we're taking a little tangential perambulation -- twenty-five years ago we were faced with an enormous interoperability challenge in the world of computing. I worked for a company that owned DEC, Tandem, IBM, Wang, and lots of other gear from companies like Burroughs and Diebold. Mainframes, minicomputers, microcomputers (now we call them PCs) all needed to talk with each other and certain standards evolved that made that more or less possible. The world was divided into ASCII and EBCDIC. Interoperability standards were hinged on communications protocols endorsed by national and international standards setting bodies and de facto "industry standards" that were proprietary but in common use across platforms. If you were running a Burroughs minicomputer and I was running a Tandem, we had some choices about how to exchange data over the network, but it was likely that we both would agree to configure an IBM protocol (the de facto, if proprietary standard) and talk to each other as if we were both IBM computers.
Dave Winer is a major figure in the development of current interoperability standards. Using the industry standard XML, Dave has been at the front of the pack influencing interoperability since at least 1998. XML RPC, SOAP, and of course RSS are among his major contributions. Another XML effort, OPML, is currently underway. If you're an industry analyst, consultant, writer, publisher or simply a pop tech afficionado, if you have any interest in interoperability then you want to be aware of Dave and his work.
I am, of course, but a humble fan-boy ("not worthy, not worthy"), a journeyman technoid in the world of dweeb. I've met Dave, and done my best to cultivate a positive relationship. It is a relationship that falls far short of friendship (he never writes, he never calls). But Dave is such a human being, who wouldn't want to be his friend?