I told the Gotham Gal that I was going to get together with a friend from London next week. She asked me who. I told her his name. She said, “how can he be your friend if I’ve never heard of him?”

Good question. But the truth is that I have friends, hundreds of them, who I haven’t even met. They are people that I’ve met online. Not in chat rooms. Through blogging and other forms of social media.

When I get the opportunity to meet these online friends face to face I try to do it. I have rarely sized someone up incorrectly who I consider a friend online. It’s amazing how you can get to know someone without ever meeting face to face.

My kids think there is something stalkerish about this behavior. I guess that’s because we’ve taught them to be wary of strangers online. But they also see that it’s been a great source of new friendships for me. I hope that as they become adults, they will shed the caution we’ve taught them and embrace the web as a social medium too.

Two years ago, our family was in Phoenix. I blogged it (because Twitter didn’t exist back then). One of my online friends, Howard, left a comment that he had a couple extra tickets to the Suns game that night if Josh and I wanted to go with him and his wife.

I jumped at the opportunity. Josh was excited to see Steve Nash. Emily said, “Dad, Howard is stalking you.” Howard hasn’t completely lived that down yet, but our friendship has morphed from the online world, turned into a business relationship and much more.

That’s just one story. I could tell dozens like that.

I wrote a post not so long ago about the difference between social nets and social media. For me, social nets are a great way to stay connected to your friends but they don’t do much for me in the way of meeting new friends. Social media, on the other hand, has been the best way for me to meet new people since college.

It’s a lot like college. Back then, we’d sit around, play music, and talk about stuff, maybe play some cards. Social media allows that "talking about stuff" to happen asynchronously as we go about our busy lives in places all over the world. That’s how I met my friend in London. Who I am going to meet face to face next week. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Chip Griffin

    My wife feels just as squeamish about my social media friends as your kids apparently do. Yet the connections I have made through social media represent some very powerful personal and business connections for me. Of course, until I meet someone in person, I don’t feel like the bond has really solidified because I still believe there is no substitute for that personal interaction in assessing the totality of the person. While I agree that my judgments from social media interaction usually match my in-person feelings, you learn a lot about a person from that casual one-on-one in-person conversation that is still missing from most online interaction.

  2. Cory Levy

    Very cool, Fred. I am hoping to do the same this summer. I try, speak to, and learn from as many people as possible. Due to my age, I am not allowed to go around Houston and put myself out there to meet new people. So I do it online. I have met an enormous amount of great people on the web and have first built email relationships…then telephone calls relationships.I have built a group of mentors and an advisory board for my “start-up” that I am trying to build…literally from ground up. If I didn’t have these people who are mentoring me…I know for a fact I would not have excelled as far as I have to this day.This summer I plan to meet the people that I have built “good” relationships with in Boulder as well as the people in the Valley and possible New York! Not only am I going to be meeting them but possibly interning with either their company or a company he/she has invested in. Should be a great experience that I am really looking forward to!

  3. ppearlman

    yes!relating online gets us right to the heart of knowing others and being known – the sharing and debating of ideas and preferences… it moves us right past superficialities like how we look, what we wear, the car we drive, errant nose hairs etc…

  4. Geoff

    My daughter (18) is always amazed at all my online friends who I end up meeting in odd parts of the world. I think there is way to much fear about the dark side of online friendships or even in standard social situations eg queuing in airports etc. In fact my first large business order, for the electronics in aircraft deicing systems, was from a guy I met in a pub whilst out walking on Hadrian’s Wall!I’m also sure some folks will find it surprising that the Gotham Gal invited an unknown person around to your house to collect their lost phone.Hope you can make it over to Cambridge, UK some time soon.

  5. Vijay

    Well said Fred, Its amazing what we learn from people with experience. I met some interesting people around your blog.

  6. Gavin

    I’ve been on both sides of this and while it’s still a little weird, I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the longer you spend time actively participating in the blogoshpere, the less weird and the less ‘stalker-ish’ it seems.I’ve started (and sold) a business with a friend that I met online (me in L.A. & him in D.C.) and have at least a dozen other people that I’ve gotten to know via my blog or their blog. It’s just an awesome way to communicate with people that are interested in the same kinds of stuff you are.

  7. Rex Hammock

    I think of you as a friend, Fred — although that word is a multi-faceted term, for sure. Although we’ve never met off-line or had a conversation outside a comment thread, I think when we finally do meet, I could finish you sentences ; ) I know more about you — because we plug into a lot of the same idea flow, we’re connected on Twitter and Flickr, and have several mutual friends — I probably know more about you than some people I’m a lot closer to off line. Weird, this network thing is.Recently, I was thinking about this topic — friends I first met online — and thought I’d start a Flickr set called by the same name — it’s still growing:

    1. fredwilson

      Weird and great

  8. Tony_Alva

    Couldn’t agree more…I’ve got a bunch of folks I only know through blogging that I consider my friends even though I’ve never met them in person. For the first time, I got to meet a bunch of them all at once a couple of weeks ago. It was a blast meeing some of these folks after jaw jacking with them for over three years now. You’re spot on about it being like hanging around, spinning records, and bullshitting about anything and everything. The older you get, the harder it is to make new adult friends, and keep in touch with old ones.I have to admit, I got the “stalker” speech from a couple of folks (them telling me I was a stalker for going to NYC to meet fellow bloggers), but like you said, blogging ain’t MySpace. I look forward to meeting more of my blogging friends in the near future.Good post…

  9. Joe Lazarus

    Stalker circle!

  10. Notta Sharon

    Lots of people will be YOUR “friend” because you bring the eventual potential of financial opportunity around in the form of greater connectivity to decision makers across almost every type of company on the planet. It may not be a direct ploy by this nice family in Phoenix, but are you so unaware of yourself to not have even mentioned this aspect of the power struggle in social media?

    1. fredwilson

      Well not so many of these friends have tried to call in favors

  11. messels

    great story. i’ve run into a few people i’ve made as friends strictly through online contact. mostly through most recent experience was with a young lady i thought may…want to date or something which isn’t something i’m available to do considering the long term relationship i’m in. she was totally cool and i’m hoping we’ll hang out next time she comes through town.have you ever had that experience? where it’s not clear if one person is “interested” in the other? aw–k–ward…

  12. vruz

    I agree with mostly everything you said.For what I’ve seen in my many years of online citizenship, “online friendship” can be a tough thing for the inexperienced.People who already have developed social skills will do better at choosing their friends online.Kids who haven’t been lucky to have the chance to develop themselves in the real world will find it hard, not because of stalkers out there, but because they would display just the same clumsiness they would have learning in the real world.Smart kids have nothing to be afraid of, they have to have the gift of living freely.If they learn to tune out bad influences, it’s even easier online than in the real world.

  13. greenskeptic

    It’s a curious thing, but amazing when it all comes together. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. I like the analogy of “talking about stuff” — those times are increasingly rare as we get older and busier. Perhaps this is one way of reclaiming that time of our lives — or evolving it.

  14. McLarty

    Fred, right on the money. Good post. Recently, I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to figure out a good answer to the “dangers” of online, and the people that mock bloggers. As a professional, I’m looking for a good way to prove my point to non-bloggers that don’t take the opportunity seriously. Non-bloggers think it’s wierd when I say, I met my accountant online – through my blog. I (we bloggers) need a good rebuttal or something. I have friends in the real world that read my blog, and leave ANONYMOUS comments, or they just tell me in person what they want to say “because it’s easier”.

  15. jill

    Thanks for the post .. So are we friends?

    1. fredwilson

      For some reason, the War song “why can’t we be friends” came into my head when I read this.Of course, we are friends!

  16. Giordano

    Hi Fred,it is a wonderful thing. For me, it started more than 15 years ago, when I started browsing around BBS, and then opening my own. That was before anyone had heard of the Internet, and the concept of a virtual friend was completely unkwnown. I was a teenager at the time, and we my parents heard that I was meeting people I never met in real life, they grew very worried. Some of those friendships are still alive, and I met many more people through the Net since then. I have to say, though, that when the relationship translated to real life was because there was a shared interest, personal or business. Online, it’s much easier to start an interaction, but it’s not so common to have a meaningful one.Cheers, Giordano

  17. RacerRick

    People do stalk you. It’s creepy. I hope no one ever takes it too far… but it’s probably inevitable.

  18. Drew Meyers

    Well said. In the year and a half I’ve been blogging, I’ve made some amazing online friendships — some of them I’ve met in person, some I haven’t.I guess I’ve shed the caution of meeting people online that my parents taught me as a child. One thing that has changed since the mid-90’s is that, now, people tend to go by their real names whereas it was common to never know someone’s real name when conversing with them online during my younger days — I think that change is the driving force behind trusting those you meet online.

  19. amar

    I always felt that you are one of the most decent and transparent ppl on the net. I haven’t really met u..but I know well enough thru ur blog ;-).

  20. Gerald Buckley

    Mr. Wilson – I had the better half, Michelle, read your post. She doesn’t “get it” yet. She asked me about LinkedIn (still waiting for your accept btw) and asked “how many of these people have you actually met?” Answer is over half. She’s shot right back the same as the Gotham Gal… How can they ALL be friends then!?My answer, “Hon, it’s complex. Web 2.0 complex.” She left shaking her head. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Thank god we’ve got our better halves to set us staight!

  21. AnnBernard

    Well I have no clue how I missed this blog post!! Wonderfully said Fred and I love all the comments…particularly since that’s the need that WhyGoSolo is aiming to solve. We make the bridging from your online worlds to offline easier, quicker and more convenient. I love how people are looking to take their online connections to the next level. It goes to show the quality of people who are currently involved in social media and leveraging the platforms that exist to make the connections happen.

  22. FT

    Great post Fred.I am active on several business and investing/trading blogs; web sites.I have “met” some cool folks; several of whom became friends and/or biz associates.I took my son to Wisconsin recently; we went to my first Lambeau Field Packer’s game. One of my online “friends” lives in Milwaukee and we met up for dinner w/ his family and he even offered use of his car. My wife didn’t fully understand, but it was great to meet this fella and his family in person and solidify our online connection.Same thing happened last week as someone I communicate with for over 2 years was in NY (from LA) and we met up for a drink.Great stuff; but choose carefully.So far my judgement has been solid.