How to make friends over the internet

Make friends over the internet with people who are great at things you’re interested in. The internet is one of the biggest advantages you have over prior generations. Leverage it.

Patrick Collison (perma)

Patrick Collison’s advice about making friends over the internet is excellent. There’s one problem with it - it’s very hard to make friends over the internet. It took me years to figure out how to do it well. Thus, this post.

General principles of meeting people on the internet

Twitter

Sonya Mann gives the most succinct explanation of how to use twitter well (perma):

I started using Twitter and followed the people in my industry who seemed interesting or cool. (You can search relevant keywords, or Google “best XYZ accounts on Twitter” and use others’ lists as a starting point.) I responded to their tweets on a regular basis. I also looked at the other people who responded to their tweets, and followed the appealing ones. Then I started responding to their tweets as well. Eventually, people followed me back. Then I started asking my local mutuals, or people who came through town, if they wanted to hang out. They did!

Note: having video calls turns out to be almost as good as meeting people in person (perma)

Strictly speaking, you don’t even need to tweet that much if you write impossible-to-resist cold DMs. However, if you’d like people to follow you and to want to become friends with you and to want to reply to your DMs, you need to

  1. be somebody people want to follow. This means
    • not too much tweeting. If you’re consistently tweeting more than once a day, you should critically evaluate how high signal-to-noise ratio of your tweets really is
    • not too much retweeting. Unless you regularly write your own tweets, I can’t really get to know you
  2. create the opportunities to be discovered
    • there are many people on twitter who tweet reasonably interesting things and nobody follows them. Why does this happen? Because these people do not reach out
      • if you have no following and you’re just tweeting, there’s essentially no way for your account to be discovered
    • the reliable way to be discovered is to talk to people. Almost everybody reads their mentions and if they notice that you consistently bring value in your replies to their tweets, they’re much more likely to follow you
      • this applies even to people with large followings

Also see: Lama Al Rajih’s wonderful detailed guide on starting to use twitter (perma) + my guide to twitter with suggestions of people to follow

Writing

Byrne Hobart notes (perma) that writing is networking for introverts. David Perell says that (perma) writing on the internet is a “serendipity vehicle”.

Many people I talk to the most these days initially reached out to me because they enjoyed reading my blog. I’m an outlier here but, even if your blog has very few visitors, having some writing online is an excellent conversation starter, both because you can send your writing to people and because people can get to know you better via things you write.

Note: This is one of the reasons you should start a blog right now.

The most useful post on networking I’ve ever read

…is Networking for Nerds (perma) by Ben Reinhardt:

How do some people seem to wind up with advocates everywhere? They create a little mental model of themselves that makes it easy for everybody they meet.

Everybody has a “projection” - a small representation - of each person they know living in their heads. You know that friend who’s “the badass interface designer who is looking to get into machine learning and consults?” She has an amazing projection and makes it easy for opportunities to find her. A projection can be distinct - “Ben is looking for X, Y, Z and can help with A, B, C.” Or it can be fuzzy - “Ben’s that guy with curly hair I think who I met at that meetup and we talked about a bunch of interesting stuff.”

If it’s distinct, whenever X comes up in conversation, you will instantly come to mind, and you’ll start getting messages like “we were having a discussion about X and would love to bring you on as an advisor.”

Note: After you read that post by Ben Reinhardt, you should Tab Snooze it one month (and then 3 months) into the future to make sure you remember to apply its lessons.

How I meet people on the internet (and in real life) with concrete examples

Summary:

  1. I write, which invites people to write me.
  2. I reach out when I see someone I think it would be interesting for me to meet
  3. I ask people I know for intros and suggestions for people I should meet
    • this point is severely underappreciated – one thing you can do right now is to message a couple of your friends asking them “do you know anybody I should meet and can you introduce me to them?”

For most of my life I didn’t have any friends. One of my most salient childhood memories is of my dad telling me to go play football with other kids outside and me refusing to do that because the very thought of getting outside and asking the boys “hey, can I play with you?” filled me with complete terror. Instead, whenever parents forced to go outside to “get some fresh air” I took a book I was reading at the time with me, found myself a bench and just sat there reading.

I thought that I was unique in this regard and that everybody else had rich social lives and close friends they could rely on. Now that I know how to make friends and how to meet people, I find that very few of us have enough social connections and that most people do not have any really close friends.

I looked at several dozen meetings I had over the last few months and wrote down how they came about. There’s no chance I would’ve been able to meet most of these people had I been born 10 or even 5 years earlier:

  1. a grad student. He emailed me one day saying that my blog is cool. I looked him up, he seemed interesting, so I wrote him that I’d like to meet when I’ll be visiting the town he lives in. We met and he turned out to be great. We now have several email threads running in parallel and had a couple of video calls since then.

  2. an engineer. We were mutuals on twitter, then I DMd him, then we jumped on a skype call, then we met for coffee. Here’s my initial message to him:

  3. a finance guy. I sent him an email after he subscribed to my newsletter, he replied, we started talking, and then I emailed him asking if he’d like to meet.

  4. an entrepreneur. I sent him a post of mine as a reply to one of his tweets; he DMd me asking if I’d like to get a coffee some time.

  5. a grad student. I was browsing /r/slatestarcodex and messaged someone who I thought left insightful comments asking them if they’d like to get a coffee (this happened several times).

  6. a finance guy. We were mutuals on twitter, then I DMd him, we started chatting, then we met IRL. Here’s my initial messages to him:

  7. (many more people I met on twitter just like this)

  8. a VC. I cold emailed him.

  9. a grad student. I asked a friend of mine for people I should meet in town X and he introduced us.

  10. an entrepreneur. I just DMd them when they weren’t following me.


    Note: I only write about successes here. For more than half of my “I asked them if they’d like to get a coffee” or “I DMd them” the person either wrote that they would not like to get a coffee with me or didn’t reply at all. Following up helps but won’t change the fact that most people don’t find you or me interesting enough to be even worth replying to.


  11. a grad student. He DMd me on twitter one day to tell me that my blog is cool. His tweets seemed insightful, so I followed him. Then one day I saw a new post of his, thought that the idea was great but the post was terrible and sent him a bunch of unsolicited advice on writing. A few weeks later, without an announcement, he sent me a pdf consisting of 41 corrections and of two pages of detailed critical notes about one of my essays. We really bonded over this and met in person next time our locations intersected.

  12. a postdoc. I was hanging out in a VC firm’s office in SF and chatting people up. This person turned out to be cool and I asked them if they’d like to get a coffee a few days later.

  13. a big scientist. I asked a scientist friend of mine for an introduction. I know that scientist because a VC whom I met previously via cold emailing him introduced me to her. Here’s how I ask for an intro with really busy people (making sure that the person I’m asking for an intro knows that I wouldn’t waste the busy person’s time Don’t ask me how I learned to think about questions to ask in advance ):

  14. a grad student. Twitter showed him to me in suggested follows…

  15. a grad student. I posted in a facebook group of ambitious people I am part of that I’ll be visiting the town and she reached out to me.


    Note: if you live in the US, traveling anywhere else in the US is pretty cheap. You should take advantage of that and meet your internet friends in person (although I do have people whom I consider to be good friends and with whom I never met in person, only communicating via text and video).


  16. an entrepreneur. I asked a friend of mine for an introduction.

  17. an entrepreneur. I DMd a mutual of mine on twitter. He said that he would be out of town but that I should totally meet his friend, which I did.

  18. a grad student. We were mutuals on twitter. I DMd him asking if he would like to meet. He said sure but then wrote that he would be too busy in the suggested time frame. A few weeks later I asked him if he’d like to get on a skype call (I was no longer in town he lived at the time). We jumped on a call and in the process of chatting, I told him every research idea I had, figured “huh, these might be interesting to other people” and wrote the Research Ideas post.

  19. a postdoc. I bought Twitonomy premium, downloaded the list of all of my followers (excel file with a bunch of metadata), searched the list for “university name in the town I’ll be visiting soon” for several universities, found someone who seemed worth reaching out to, and DMd her asking if she’d like to meet (although I never encountered her before on twitter).

    Note: you can use flock.network instead of Twitonomy to search though your twitter friends and followers with more ease.

  20. an engineer. I was browsing VK (Russian facebook), stumbled on someone who’s writing I liked, and DMd them asking if they would like to get coffee.

Further reading

I wish I could send a message to our kid selves: “you are not alone… it just happens that your brain-mates are distributed across the planet, lol, sorry”

Visakan Veerasamy (perma)

How To Make Friends 2.0 (perma) by Nikhil Krishnan:

By constantly broadcasting my interests/personality on the internet, you have a pretty decent sense of whether or not you wanna kick it with me. If you’re into healthcare, memes, internet culture, and self-deprecating humor, it’s pretty likely we’ll be friends.

And that friendship actually builds up over time before actually meeting. Physical proximity becomes less necessary, relationships are built agnostic of geography. The repeat, unplanned interactions happen in the public forum consistently over time. This means flowing into an actual friendship when you meet is actually way easier, you already have a rapport from years of interacting online.

By making my interests clear publicly, it’s easier to find and meet people with those mutual interests regardless of where they are physically. I probably meet 75% of new people nowadays via Twitter, and have several times met someone in a city I’m traveling to via Twitter. And even though I’ve only interacted with these people on Twitter, I immediately slid into an awesome conversation with them like we’d been friends for years. …

What about 360 degree feedback reviews with your friends? I’ve learned a ton about myself through these at work, how can I find out how to be a better friend?

How to write emails well:


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