My friend Tyler in Nashville made a good post about the relationships we build online (+1 for using the term "online nuggets") and continue with them offline in our "real" lives. This is appropriate in the context of our friendship in particular, since we typically see each other once or twice a year, and we're still comfortable enough to share a room between our families. They're not the only ones we do this with, either.
The Internet is an enabler for a great many things, both good and bad. I'm starting to wonder if there really is a line between real life and the Internet, and I suppose it depends on the person. I try to be the same person in real life that I am online, but I acknowledge that's rare. A lot of people don't even use their real names online.
But specifically with relationships, the deeper ones, I think the line is quite blurred. Online interaction is not a substitute for in-person good times, certainly, as the communal experience of doing anything is by definition something shared, but it goes a long way toward filling the gaps until those experiences are possible.
There are nuances that may cause us to measure these long-distance arrangements differently. I have a friend, for example, that often feels like she does all of the work to maintain relationships, and from that data point often feels like the other people just don't care as much. I don't happen to agree, because that spectrum of engagement exists in close-proximity relationships as well, largely because we all engage in different ways.
I can't speak for everyone, but the online nuggets of my friends that aren't next door enrich my life in a way that didn't exist 20 years ago, and I'm very thankful for it.