I don’t throw around the word friend lightly. If I meet you at a conference and we talk for 20 minutes, I don’t refer to you as my friend. You’re an acquaintance or something that I have met.

That’s nothing personal – it’s out of respect for you as much as myself. Nothing against people who would call that person a friend, I just try to limit my use of the term.

And there are certainly different tiers of friendship. From my best and closest friends, to people I am developing a friendship with to others that I may have drifted away from. They are all my friends.

I was thinking just now about the people I consider friends and where I met them. And the funny thing is that a large number of them, I have met in forums.

One of the cool things about meeting people with like minded interests on forums, especially when there is some business element involved, is that you are both likely trying to make a move upward or already on the way up. Not everyone will make it. But, building those relationships is great because those are the people that you can trust, the people you knew back when, before you had the level of success that you may one day have.

When I think about who I consider to be a friend, it is remarkable how many of them I have met through forums, either forums I managed or forums that I participated in or served on staff for. There is a very high volume.

One of my favorite examples of this is the SitePoint Forums, where I was on staff for more than 7 years. I was also on staff with Brandon Eley, Chrispian Burks, Jeremy Wright, Brad Williams, Stephan Segraves and Ted Sindzinski at various points in time and I have developed strong, long term relationships with all of them.

I’ve talked to them all online for years and met them all in person at least once (and have met all except Ted multiple times). I saw Brandon at six different events in 2010, Chrispian, Jeremy, Brad and Stephan at two and Ted at one.

And they’ve all accomplished so much since we met. And so have I. That’s one of the cool parts for me because it creates this sort of support system where I’ve helped them along at one point or another and they’ve done the same for me. I’m there when they need me – they are there when I need them. I’m proud of what they do and, hopefully, they’re proud of what I do.

I know there are people in the world who might say something like “get off the computer and go make some real connections.” But, for me, most of my friends, I met online first. I have met plenty in person, but without the internet, I wouldn’t know the vast majority of them to begin with.

I think forums are conducive to building strong, long term relationships because of their in-depth, more long form nature (than other forms of social media – generally speaking). They aren’t the whole picture – these relationships were built through instant messenger and e-mail as much as anything else – but they were the touching point.