Recently, Google came out with a new social network called Google+. “Why do we need Google+ when we already have Facebook?” people might ask. “How is it different, and why should I care?”

Well, aside from the obvious fact that the new social network is by Google (and I happen to love all things Google…hellooooo Gmail!), Google+ offers at least one crucial thing Facebook doesn’t—categorization of “friends.” I have long said that Facebook needs an “acquaintance” category and now I have one in Google+. The problem is, after friending so many people on Facebook, I feel bad, almost as if I’m demoting them, to put them in an “acquaintance” circle on Google+. Maybe I’ll make a circle for “besties” and let the rest be “friends.”

This leads us to the real question at hand: in today’s social network-dominated environment, what constitutes a friend?

According to Facebook, I have at least 746 friends. And yet, when I want to do something, I call the same handful of people. When my grandma passed away, a select group of true friends pooled together the funds so I could fly home for the funeral and miss work (and that was not the first time they’d done something like that for me). I feel like the friend designation should be for such people, the people I call when I need a… well… friend.

Social networking sites might be good for quick status updates and social event calendars, but when it comes down to it, a great friendship takes communication offline at some point. Yes, I have some good friends who are far away and we communicate vastly via text, type, and Skype, but there’s something to be said for making time for face-to-face interaction, or even a phone call or letter. A letter… you know, that thing with handwriting and envelopes and stamps. (Aside: I tried to instigate a pen pal relationship this year and failed miserably. I mostly blame my poor penmanship and lack of good stationary, not to mention general laziness.)

So what constitutes a friend? According to Facebook, a friend is someone you don’t mind sharing cyberspace with. In Google+ terms, a friend is someone you feel comfortable sharing private details with. To me, a friend is someone you share honest to goodness life with. I think I might need to revamp my circles.