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Friendship, trust, and the bottom line

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As often as I Google and check out Trip Advisor, Zagat, or Amazon for advice or product ratings, I'm just as likely to turn to a friend.

Some of my friends are born infomaniacs. They seem to know more than I do about everything. Others are niche specialists: Judy knows the menu of nearly every restaurant in Manhattan; Linda tracks the new arrivals at Home Goods and TJ Maxx. I depend on the knowledge base of my friends, online and off, to help expand my own.

A recent article in the New York Times, Search Takes a Social Turn, by Jenna Wortham documents the trend of people turning to a trusted online circle to help them make choices---dubbing it the "friend trend." As a result, a growing number of web-based companies are devising ways to harness the power of such data to drive sales.

The article mentions a start-up company in New York named Hunch, one of several that has developed sophisticated software to analyze the preferences of someone's friends in order to predict buying behavior. The company's database shows, for example, that Twitter users prefer the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the theatre.

The trend reflects another parallel between the real world and the virtual one. Trust is an essential ingredient of any solid friendship. We take it for granted that our close friends will be honest when we ask their opinions, and that they'll rarely lead us wrong whether it's about a product or personal issue---certainly not intentionally. They have our backs and have our interests at heart. That's why a breach of trust shakes the very foundations of a friendship.

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her recent book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

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