When is a ‘friend’ not a friend?

(Answer: when he’s Rupert Murdoch.) This morning’s Observer column

Tom Anderson, the founder of MySpace, had – as of 9.42am on Friday 30 March – 167,144,385 ‘friends’. This is not because he is exceedingly sociable, but because anyone who signs up on MySpace automatically becomes one of Tom’s friends. By the time you read this, he will have another 500,000. (MySpace is adding 250,000 users a day.)

The MySpace concept of a friend may seem contrived, but is much closer to what a businessperson would describe as a ‘contact’. This may be why the corporate world is gazing anxiously at the social networking phenomenon and wondering if it has anything to offer. Two studies – by Forrester Research, a market research firm, and McKinsey, a consultancy – offer conflicting views…