Facemail friends vs real friends

I'm curious about the etiquette of becoming somebody's friend on a web-based social network application.

Recently I met someone at a Melbourne function and we talked about our mutual friends. Realworld friends, not labelled on a web-based social network as friends, friend.

We had a lovely night chatting (read: dishing industry gossip) and then I thought the natural follow-up would be to "friend" her. The industry causes many problems with people forgetting other people's names and, because I don't sign anybody's cheques or have my name in opening credits of anything, ever, I thought the facemail friending thing might be a good tool to avoid future embarrassment when I meet a breakfast radio host 3 months down the track.

But then, in the conversation we had, we discussed the facemail and she was telling me that she accidentally contacted somebody as a friend while merely trying to work out if it was the right person. Was she one of the protective types who kept her friends list to the people she actually knew?

And then, what if her friend list was one of the giant ones? There are people out there who collect hundreds if not thousands of names on their profile which makes the idea of being that person's friend somewhat less special.

But then again, this wouldn't be special, would it? It would just be a case of "I met you once at a party and then I'm stuck with your boring updates until the next web-based social networking fad comes along." There is nothing special about being on a list of friends because that's not actually friendship. It's easy to forget that.

Maybe that's where Linked-In has it so right. It's just a list of people you know professionally. They don't pretend to be your friend but they might try to use you one day. It's open and honest. Maybe that's also why Linked-In is quite unpopular by comparison.

And after all, isn't popularity what it's all about?