The mini-missives that friends post on websites like Twitter create what experts call "ambient awareness"—a form of contact akin to picking up a friend's body language or stray remarks. Alone they add up to little, "but taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting," Clive Thompson writes in the New York Times.
“It’s like I can distantly read everyone’s mind,” one user told Thompson. “I love that. I feel like I’m getting to something raw about my friends." The messages can also spark social contact when friends read about each other's plans. But there are possible downsides to online friendship too, like losing sight of the real thing. “At one point I realized I had a friend whose child I had seen, via photos on Flickr, grow from birth to 1 year old,” one user said. “I thought, I really should go meet her in person.” (Read more Facebook stories.)