It seems like everyone is jumping on the anti-Facebook bandwagon lately (if you haven’t seen “I’m getting bored of Facebook”, you really should, it’s quite funny). I’ve never been a fan of the “I liked them before they were popular” phenomenon, but in this case I have no choice but to agree with some of the criticism.
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually find many of the most common annoyances to actually be a pleasant waste of time (hope no one from Emagister is reading this 😉 ). Seeing new profile pictures of ex-girlfriends, reading feeds for high school pals may not be productive, but like everything in our personal lives, it has an emotional meaning for me, if not for others.
The problem comes when Facebook opens the “friend” flood gates and starts to let people that I’ve never met, have nothing in common with and don’t even live on the same continent as I do (disclaimer: I don’t share a time zone with most of my Facebook pals, but we did study together at some point, Fbook’s bread and butter.) I have to date received over 60 friend requests from these people I’ve never met and with whom I share no mutual friends, so many that I’ve been forced to actually deactivate Facebook email alerts.
The culprit of all of this unsolicited “friending” is a pesky little app called Friend Finder. I’m a big believer in Facebook apps and was quite impressed by the teams that presented theirs at Sclipo’s Facebook Garage (well done, Gregor). Again, all is fair in love and poking when I have some connection to the people poking me. I may not accept every request to install the Super Awesome App of the Week, but they’ve never been a source of real frustration.
And this is where we move past one user’s feedback to a more business focused critique. Facebook has really shot itself in the foot here: they’ve allowed users that I’m not interested to hound me into deactivating my alert emails and thus have forced me to miss out on news about the people I am interested in. I’ve always marvelled at their ability to make a viral echo chamber where the smallest actions by individual users are amplified throughout their networks. A great trick but the echo chamber only works if I’m there to hear it. The second I say “I’m getting bored…” the jig is up.
Here are some quick recommendations for Facebook:
- Be careful with the apps you allow into your site.
They can hurt you in the long run. No app’s viral power is worth damaging your brand.
- If you must allow people I don’t know to find me, make sure you control it.
Use all of the algorithm magic you use in the general search results. I’ve always marvelled at the way you seamlessly hide results based on network or profile information. Use this power, plus the amount of mutual friends as a barrier to unsolicited requests.
- Think LinkedIn.
I’m not advocating Facebook require a prior relationship for every request, or an email address, but they should at least make it easy (ie in the profile itself) for users to control the type of contact they seek with others. My friending needs (finding old friends, showing pictures of my son, etc) are much different from teenagers in the Midwest.
A final note: we had long discussions about these kinds of issues while working on the new version of Grupos Emagister, our new social learning site. I was a strong proponent being less restrictive with Grupos because it’s a social learning site, designed to help you meet new people that you don’t know but do share the same interests with (ie. non-friending model. In the end we opted for a hybrid solution that a) requires user consent before adding someone to your network but b) does not restrict the initial contact. Hopefully this willfit nicely with the site’s business model. Time will tell.