Monday, November 12, 2007

Sorry pal - you ain't my friend no more

I woke up Saturday morning to a facebook news feed filled with new relationship announcements, "fan" declarations, haiku-like status updates and everything else you can imagine. The problem is, most of these updates came from people I barely know anymore (or ever).

At first, it might seem nice that I know that a friend of a friend of mine who I met once in college is "shocked" because he just had his first baby. But why do I feel like it is a bit delusional of me to feel excited for him? Why should I care? Is my life actually any richer because I have my finger on the pulse of a wider network of acquaintances? Is my life any richer because a wider network of acquaintances have their finger on my pulse?

As my list of friends swelled from 200 to 400 to 600, and with that, got filled with "friends" who should never have strayed from my LinkedIn network, facebook is increasingly feeling like a really messy attic.

People use to be pack rats with things. Now we're all becoming pack rats with friends (and in LinkedIn's case, with business contacts). We collect "friends" like signatures in a high school yearbook or old postcards, stowing them away just in case. With facebook's illusion as a limitless always-clean attic, we are never forced to do a spring cleaning. But the problem is, facebook doesn't have shelves in its attic. I can't have my easy-to-reach friends, and the in-the-back-of-the-closet friends. They're all mixed together. And it just ain't working for me anymore. It's time for a spring cleaning.

So, this is my formal declaration: facebook has been too slow in rolling out their "linkedin-killer-network" feature we've heard so much about. So I have resolved to reduce the number of facebook "friends" I have. This weekend, I took my first sweep. It's not easy, like throwing anything away, I can't help but wonder whether I'll regret it later. But after the initial self-doubt, with each friend removal, I feel like I've removed a little clutter from my life. You might want to give it a try...


Nate Westheimer said...

heading to Facebook to see if I was purged...

Michael Galpert said...

ive been wanting to do the same but couldnt commit the atrocity. I'm still waiting for the long awaited identity/group separation features on facebook.

Avi Muchnick said...

I was talking with michael about this today. What facebook really needs is a "personal facebook policy" that someone can display when they are friended. For example: "I only add people that I have met in person" or "I use facebook for networking".

The "I am interested in..." in people's profiles is often unviewable and a hardly useful vestige of when Facebook was used for scoring.

Sarah Tavel said...

Interesting - that's definitely one idea. My ideal though would be for it to be something totally passive on the side of the user. That is, for facebook to *learn* who your tier-1 friends are; the facebook profiles and status updates you actually care about. They could do this, I imagine, by analyzing how many connections you have to certain people, how often you look at their profile / post on their wall, etc.. That way, the tiering of friends is personalized to the user him/herself, but doesn't require some (potentially awkward) categorization.... just an idea.

Avi Muchnick said...

Actually, I was under the impression that they do something like that. Or at least I notice that the people whose profiles I generally click on are the ones who appear to update most often in my news feed and the ones I generally ignore don't appear unless it's a slow news feed day. It could be coincidence though.

Sarah Tavel said...

oh interesting, I think you might be right. I still have some total random-os who come up on my newsfeed, but when I check the status update option, it is filled with random-os. Ahh, facebook, always one step ahead of me (except in the case of the long awaited identity/group separation feature).

Ben Cooper said...

Facebook has a feature akin to what you are looking for; it is just not well advertised. If you click on "Preferences" next to where it says "News Feed" that will allow you to have your feed prioritize friends up or down, in addition to news types like picture posts or relationship status.

I've found this is most helpful for my not-really-friends who are highly active on Facebook & clogging my feed (roughly 3%). Plus, its useful for tracking the appx. 7% of friends I am most interested in. Don't know if my distribution is normal for social networks, but I find that I am indifferent to 90% of feed items.

This list-making can be a little too much data entry if you have 600 friends, although the auto-complete helps. A tier-1 friend learner would be a smart addition, and may become necessary as everyone's networks continue to swell.

Tony Bacigalupo said...

Ben's got it right-- specifically with regard to the News Feed, you actually do get some nice controls to help sort out which friends you want to hear more or less about.

This should be developed more with time, and I'm sure it will. In the meantime, we all must grapple with our definition of a "friend" :-)

Jeff D said...


I have so far avoided that problem by not adding anyone I don't physically know to my Facebook account. That's for "real" friends.

I actually use LinkedIn to help source people for the business I'm in, so having a broad network there makes business sense. I have to "ignore" a few requests a day to be added to Facebook, which I have no problem doing.

I've also made it known that people who repeatedly send me invites to play Zombie or Pirate are going to get dropped as well.

Sarah Tavel said...

Ben, Tony and Jeff: Thanks for the comments and great to meet you.

Per Ben's comment, I adjusted some of the preferences for my newsfeed. But it just isn't manageable for me to go through prioritize friends.

Per Jeff's comment, I actually reject facebook friends on a weekly basis. I have no qualms about that. The funny thing is that I'm removing friends who I once actually *knew*. In person. Maybe even went out to drinks together.

Regardless, thanks for the comments. I'm down to 530 friends!

Max Bleyleben said...

Absolutely right. I feared as much, and from the beginning only accepted Friends who were real. My test was: "a person who was or would have been invited to my wedding." To everyone else I just said no. And I pushed all business contacts back to LinkedIn. The etiquette around this needs work -- I'm sure I offended some people, so I like the idea of stating my rules upfront.

bill said...

I like whatyou say. I wonder: if Facebook implies a degree of intimacy that really doesn't exist (barring a Facebook trail that loops back on itself), should you have the ability to 'chop the trail' past some number of links? Good lord, is that Kevin Bacon? (g)

jen_chan, writer said...

That was a pretty neat way of putting it. Pack rats. Now, we've turned on fellow humans! Honestly, I don't really think those "network friends" of yours will even notice that they've been removed actually... And you might even be doing them a favor. :) At least, you've given them more room to add more friends they don't really need. Or you might have helped them de-clutter their list as well.

Rick said...

Hi Sarah;

Just a quick thanks for this post.

I've been asked to teach a series of networking courses to adults.

I've thrown out the textbook and am starting from scratch. I'm using this post in writing my new courses.

People need to know that their lives are more important than the hottest new trends.

There is much good in the new networking media, but in many, many cases, the emperor has no clothes. We get swept into trends because they are trends.

Good for you for breaking free.

Keep up the great writing.

All the best,

Rick T.
(a new reader)

Adam said...

Hi Sarah. Are you or any of your readers aware of any life science VC’s who are blogging? If so, please let me know ([email protected]). Thank you and I love Adventurista!