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The Column

Steve Hofstetter is Your Friend

It's finally happened. I've been banned from the internet. Which is amazing, considering some of the creeps on there.

I'm exaggerating, of course. It's what I do. All the time. See?

Here's the real story. For those of you who are new to this column and who don't like reading archives, I launched a quest last Christmas Eve for 10,000 friends on facebook.com. For those of you who are older than I am, facebook.com is a community website where college students try to hook up with other college students and send each other chain mail. Sometimes an occasional comedian drops by to create a biting social commentary and get a ton of publicity. And chain mail.

By mid January, I had 15,000 friends. I expanded the quest, and sought 100,000 friends. I got that a few months later. Did I stop there? If you think I did, you must really be new to this column.

I kept adding friends and friends kept adding me, totaling up to about 200,000. And then, the crash came.

Facebook's programmers were not expecting to run into someone quite as obsessive as Steve Hofstetter. So with more than 1% of every college student in the world on my friends list, the site started slowing down.

That's understandable. Before I came around, facebook's biggest concern was girls who displayed their cleavage and phone numbers and then wondered why people would call them. I, on the other hand, wondered which strip club will eventually hire them. You may think I'm mean, but anyone who can't figure out that removing a phone number from a website will prevent random phone calls isn't suited for a day job. Or at least a job I can write about in a family newspaper.

But then came my friend quest. My quest amounted to millions of extra page-views, especially once people started copying me. There are several hundred friend questers now, though none of them ever broke 100,000. Just call me Wilt Chamberlain, because my record will stand. His points record, you pervert.

When facebook emailed me this weekend, I understood the situation was tense. My page was simply too big, and was slowing the site down for everyone. I never wanted that to happen - how could I live with myself if I was the reason there were fewer college hookups? That'd put me in the same category as herpes and RAs.

So I made a suggestion. I never thought I would say this, but it seemed the only possible solution.

"Reset me."

And they did.

Gone was my mammoth friend list. Gone was my two degrees of separation from almost every college student in the world. But most importantly, gone was my chain mail. Hello, silver lining.

The facebook people were nice enough to accommodate me all this time, and nice enough not to boot me once I was starting to, well, ruin their site. Instead of deleting my profile, they simply rolled back my odometer. The funniest part is that they did it overnight, and by the time I woke up I had 22 new friend requests. I have a feeling that by next year they'll have to roll it back again, or I may have to get a new car entirely.

I have experienced some very cool things through the quest - new friends, a documentary made about me, and an eerie window into just how dumb people can be.

"I know your profile explains everything, and so does your picture, and you just told me, but who are you?"

The chain mail may have stopped, but I still get those dumb "who are you" messages. And I probably always will.

"I just saw you doing standup at a club. Are you a comedian?"

Facebook will always have a special place in my heart and if it is every written, my biography. I thank the staff for not hating me for slowing their site, and I thank the 200,000 people who went with me on my ridiculous journey. Though I feel like a chapter of my life has been closed, I know it's only a matter of time before boredom and obsessiveness lead me to write a new one.

There's always MySpace.

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