May 20, 2014 · 2 minutes

Facebook can sometimes seem like a digital microcosm of your entire life. It's where you share snippets of personal information with your friends (and the company's advertising network), chat with everyone you've ever met, and make any major life development "Facebook official." But the harsh dismissal of a new feature allowing Facebook users to ask friends if they are in a relationship when they haven't told Facebook yet, shows that the service still has its own rules of etiquette -- and that it's not a perfect replica of the real world.

The feature works like this: someone notices that a friend hasn't filled out the "relationship status" section of their profile, then messages that friend by clicking on a special "ask" button. After the initiator of the request explains why they want to know if the friend is single or not, the friend decides whether to respond, either privately or publicly. It's basically a private messaging tool made for one type of conversation.

That question wouldn't seem strange outside of Facebook. People ask each other about their relationships all the time -- it's hardly a taboo subject. But according to the reaction to the feature from sites like Slate, Time, and Jezebel, a feature made for asking Facebook users about their love lives is stranger than Facebook's new drone-powered future. A betting man probably would have thought that a social network using flying robots to provide Internet access would be stranger than this "ask" button, but it looks like he would have been wrong.

Facebook is getting better at making its service a natural extension of everyday life instead of a bubble in which all social interactions follow their own sets of rules. That's what makes new features like its Nearby Friends tool, which allows Facebook users to share their general location with select friends, so interesting. That's also why it has devoted so much effort to making its messaging service, which allows its users to chat in private instead of in full view of everyone they've ever met, more compelling to people who would otherwise use other messaging apps. Emulating and augmenting real-world interactions has become Facebook's newest obsession.

But this feature -- and its siblings, which allow people to ask about someone's hometown, job, and other information Facebook can use to target advertisements -- show that some things haven't yet made the jump between the real world and Facebook's digital facsimile. Stalking someone in real life the same way you stalk someone on Facebook would (obviously) be odd. It seems like asking someone about their relationship status is also strange, though not to quite the same extent, of course. For all their similarities, Facebook and real life are still separate.

Except for when it comes to poking people. That shit's strange no matter what the context is, whether it's on Facebook (where it does nothing besides irritate someone) or in the real world (where it does the exact same thing, with a little more pain involved), and is just unacceptable.

[Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer]