Online BFFs – virtual friendship, the way of the future? Please take my poll!

Let’s go back in time for a second – it’s the early 2000’s and you’re watching a classic romantic comedy movie, which inevitably includes a young single, looking to meet his or her soulmate.  The next scene shows the protagonist speed dating at a local bar – the quintessential way to meet a mate about a decade or two ago.  Fast forward to today, and the dating world has shifted remarkably to an online focus, with 40% of heterosexual couples and almost 70% of same-sex couples meeting virtually; a truly remarkable shift made possible by an interconnected world and the utilization of digital technology.

In the ‘Professional’ relationship and development world, the progression to virtual is no different – with almost 80% of jobs openings shared on LinkedIn, a quite significant portion.  Further, we know recruiters heavily depend on LinkedIn for lead generation to fill open positions (source noted below).

This begs the question…are our friendships headed for a major transition into the virtual world as well?  And will the pandemic catapult us into this virtual environment prematurely?  As such, I’d like to poll the group:

No doubt, the largest hesitation with making friends online is likely the conception that online friends are unusual, and there is major suspicion that online relationships don’t lead to ‘real friendships’.  This common thought begs the question: in this virtual environment, can friendships which are chartered through virtual settings replicate, and even replace, in person friendships? 

My answer is: well, yes, haven’t the success of online dating apps and LinkedIn shown us this is not only possible, but inevitable? One could even argue that the virtual friendship seeking applications like Bumble BFF or Hey! Vina can lead to a more prosperous friendship due to the advancements of digital technology. Here’s why:

Friendship applications like Bumble BFF utilize an algorithm to match you to potential friends with similar interests, location, and other elements of your profile.  This dramatically lowers the risk that a friendship seeker won’t have any similar interests to their new friend.  Further, the application swiping mechanism learns likes and dislikes over time through the user’s activity, meaning that matches are always improving.

Hey! Vina takes the matching a step further, utilizing data from the user’s interaction with quizzes to match users to friends with similar style, interests, and life stage.  Under their more content driven approach, they also created an online magazine called the Vinazine.  The Vinazine includes articles and quizzes with catchy titling to grab the user’s eye, and even allows consumers to target relationships with likeminded individuals by joining community groups.  This user interaction with the application further informs Hey! Vina’s algorithm of relevant interests for each friendship seeker leading to more effective friendship matches.  

Now I know what you’re thinking…yes, these apps might help to match me with likeminded people, but can they really lead to a long and prosperous friendship?  Let’s dive into some of the statistics surrounding the first online friendship forum: video games.  Video gaming has been around for quite a while, and technology has dramatically improved offerings to provide a community of players around the world and solicit real time interaction.  Here’s some 2020 statistics on what gamers have to say about their so-called ‘online’ friends (source noted below):

  • 75% of respondents said that they consider their gamer buds to be “real friends” despite never meeting in the real world
  • The average gamer has 12 (gamer) friends, 4 real-life friends, and 8 which they hadn’t met in real life
  • 40% of respondents said an online gaming session was just as good as real-life socializing

The evidence is clear: though gaming relationships are predominantly online, the vast majority of these are considered “real friends”, and almost half consider online gaming sessions as a potential replacement for in person socialization. 

As with any digital technology advancement, we know there are limitations to such a drastic change in human behavior.  While I believe prosperous friendships can start online in the applications noted above, there are some shortfalls to be learned from the use of dating applications and LinkedIn networks.  Although relationships in here begin with online matching and some initial conversation, many of these relationships transition to offline or in person interaction.  Believe there are a few reasons for this in which the digital technology has not yet overcome:

  • In online relationships, the individuals themselves curate all information shared in the relationship.  In contrast, offline relationships allow individual to see interactions between their friends and others and read body language, important cues into their personality. Digital platforms for friendships have not yet figured out how to replace these unspoken elements of relationships, and often rely heavily on the honesty of participants in sharing their interests and personality traits.  
  • Secondly, the element of ‘trust’ – it’s no secret that online relationships have an easier likelihood of being deceptive.  When a relationship transitions to an in person one, that potential for deception narrows.  We are seeing digital technology improve in this area , as many of these dating and friendship applications begin to use artificial intelligence to verify that pictures uploaded by users are actually, in fact, the user.

About halfway through writing this blog post, I was convinced – meeting new friends online was going to be the way of the future, and a big part of the post-Covid-19 world.  And alas, I signed up for Hey! Vina.  The application opened up, and I was able to link my profile directly to my facebook.  The next screen gave me a 6 question quiz about whether I prefer to meet up for coffee or a glass of wine, city or nature, morning or night, and so on.  Next, I was able to select communities I’d like to be a part of – of course the ‘dog mom’ group was a no brainer for me, but I decided to hold off on joining the ‘bloggers’ community until I have a few more blog posts under my belt!  I’m off to test my own theory, can I make friends virtually that replicate in person friendships?

Incase you’re interested in reading more…

Sources for two charts showing how couple have met in past years: https://web.stanford.edu/~mrosenfe/Rosenfeld_et_al_
Disintermediating_Friends.pdf
& https://bunow.com/tinder-and-bumble-the-online-dating-era/

LinkedIn statistics: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bullhorn-reach-us-social-recruiting-report-linkedin-is-1-social-site-for-jobs-with-77-percent-of-openings-posted-there-twitter-ahead-of-facebook-157211695.html

Bumble BFF info: https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/04/bumble-launches-bff-a-feature-to-find-new-friends/

Hey! Vina info: https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/02/hey-vina-the-female-focused-friendship-app-launches-on-android/

Video games and friends: https://www.thegamer.com/gamer-friends-real-study-virgin-media/#:~:text=About%20three%2Dquarters%20of%20respondents,on%20social%20media%20and%20email

9 comments

  1. Chuyong Liu · ·

    Hi Abigail, I really love the poll! Although during the pandemic, my friendships minimized, I have seen the trend for more real friendships created by gaming and other online forms. I used to disagree with my husband who socialized mostly with his gaming friends and think that he needed more “real” relationships with who we can meet and hang out together. However, during the pandemic, I have realized that true friendship can be built that way. I am now all supportive of his gaming social life.

  2. alexcarey94 · ·

    Hey! Really love this post I totally agree I think this is a trend of the future. Especially with the younger generation that utilizes social media and are tech Savy more than ever before. I feel like the real problem is the regulating these sites or only allowing 18+ because I feel like with younger people it could get dangerous. But I also think there is an opportunity we could see of more virtual hangouts in this setting such as using am app like house party to meet friends or virtually date utilizing video features like we do at work.

  3. Coincidentally as yesterday was valentine’s day, I was wondering to myself how many of my ‘couple friends’ met over a dating app, and just about half were! I’m not surprised by the numbers you presented here that 75% of gamers consider their virtual friends as “real friends”, especially with gaming platforms like Twitch where live interactions have brought people together virtually. Another app that has gain popularity over the last year is called Clubhouse where people join chat rooms and talk to each other (without video, sharing photos, or texting), I’d be curious to see how all these apps continue to change social interactions in the future.

  4. Really great post! In some ways, this issue is what got me into studying information technology in the first place. I was in one of the early online chatrooms in the mid-80s called “Quantum Link.” I met some friends in that forum, and would have absolutely considered them “real friends.” On the other hand, I disagree with your definition of virtual. I think virtual/ colocated is a spectrum that describes the percentage of the relationship that occurs in virtual environments, regardless of where it started.

  5. wow, it’s really a data-driven post! I like how the posts explain the relationship and topics using data, charts, which makes the argument more authentic.

    To answer the question VIRTUAL FRIENDSHIP, THE WAY OF THE FUTURE? I believe it’s related to who you are asking. Taking an example when there was no internet, people always make “virtual” friends by sending letters through the mail. Some people are used to keep a friendship by sending letters periodically, but some are not. I believe the “virtual” friendship has existed for a long time but the internet just changed the way people handling “virtual” friendships. I personally would not believe it will replace the real in-person friendship but it will continue to exist as another form of relationship.

  6. I found this post to be really interesting. After Bumble just went public last week this topic seems to be very relevant. I am a little skeptical on how strong friendships can be made when most of the interaction is virtual. My best friends are my best friends because we have years of shared experiences together. This moves beyond just chatting as we would normally do through text or phone. The moments where we have gone out and been active are where our bonds grew strongest. Also, I think what makes any relationship great is that each person has at least a slightly different personality or set of interests. I think it would get boring if I were matched up with people exactly like me. Some similar interests would be important, but I think the best relationships form when people have different things to bring to the table.

  7. AndraeAllen · ·

    Great post Abigail! While I don’t consider myself a gamer, I do have a consistent group of individuals whom I play online games with. My interaction with this group has increased during the pandemic. I think this is due to the fact that they have become more available. I text with members of this group all the time but most of them I have never met. All of them live in Mass so maybe one day I’ll actually see their faces

  8. lourdessanfeliu · ·

    Nice post, Abigail! I really enjoyed it and brought me more visibility into how new friendships may be created in the future. I can see this becoming more popular as time goes similar to how online dating became a huge part to finding a partner.

  9. lisahersh · ·

    Awesome post, Abigail! When I was new to Boston and there was a ton of advertising for this in-person meetup that was all coordinated online (I can’t remember the name of the website which will bother me to no end). I remember being too hesitant to actually try it out as I immediately thought (as you said) the internet is full of weirdos! Fast forward 8 years (through a breakup, multiple iterations of “download-use-delete” dating apps, and a remote internship that required developing ties via online means) and I think I would definitely use a platform like Bumble BFF, Vina, etc., to develop friendships. Since I have a solid friend group in Boston thanks to my husband, friends that have moved to the area, friends of friends, work, and school I don’t feel a need for it now, but would definitely consider it if my circumstances were different. I guess this is a real-life case of the cool/creepy line shifting over time and increased exposure.

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