Five Easy Ways To Improve Facebook

I've seen a real boom in the amount of friends I've added on Facebook in the past week or two.  I hate to use a buzzword but it really seems like you reach a “tipping point” where you have a big enough circle of friends that someone finding you leads to a better chance of finding other people you know (or them finding you.)  

The funny thing is I'm still not sure what Facebook is for.  I mean, adding the newsfeed, even though controversial at the time, makes it really easy to follow what your friends are up to.  But beyond that IM-level of superficiality (“Jason joined the group, “I'm from a small town – wanna fight about it?” or “Jason is up when he should be sleeping” or “Jason removed Fried Green Tomatoes from his list of favourite movies” or “Jason posted on Friend X's wall: 'What's up?'”), what's the point?  I think I'm maybe missing something (and the fact that I finally expanded my profile to include more than a single favourite book/movie/TV show plus the fact that I'm checking Facebook obsessively to see these new tidbits of various friends appear means there is *something* to it.) 

Anyhow, part of me thought about submitting the following list to Digg.  But seeing how many sites get shut down after being linked to on that site (er, assuming more than 11 people Digg your story! ), it's a gamble I'm not willing to take at least until I get my bandwidth increased again.  I doubled it after the shutdowns at the end of October/November but I'm still pushing my limit every month as more people find this site. 

It's kind of like a virus – once you put a site out there and show that you're going to keep it up, more and more people will inevitably find you and some are going to stick around.  For instance, joining the Sask Blogs aggregator has led to a whole new influx of non-library-related readers.  (That site also links to similar blog aggregators for most other provinces further down on the left side if you're interested in checking out some blogs beyond the usual ones you might read.)

So as usual, that's a lot of preamble before the main event.  Here you go…

Five Easy Ways to Improve Facebook
5. Instead of just “Friends”, have two categories for connections – “friends” plus “acquaintances” for people you might add because of a common geographical, educational or other interest.  Actually, why not allow users to categorize friends as much as they want?  I'd love to be able to have groups set-up for library school friends, people I worked with, people from my hometown, working librarians I know, family members and so on. 

4. Turn Facebook into a full-fledged online address book by allowing users to enter contact details for friends and acquaintances, even if they aren't existing members.  The easiest way to do this?  Buy Plaxo.

3. Have spots for not just “hometown” but current place of residence and former place(s) of residence.  Sort of related, allow people to choose whether or not to display the history of changes to their profile, similar to how you can see how a Wikipedia page has changed over time. 

2. Make the groups more active & useful somehow – perhaps by adding more about their activity levels in the newsfeeds?  On that note, have an RSS feed of the Facebook newsfeed so you don't even have to log in to “playfully” stalk people. (Please, somebody post a better way to describe the type of stalking you do online with no harmful intent but near-total access to a person's life and actions.  “Playful” isn't the word I'm looking for and I'm beginning to creep myself out every time I use it! )

1. My best idea is so obvious and yet has so much potential, I'm only going to share it if I (or my agent ) is contacted by somebody at Facebook.  We'll talk…

(It's been a long time but I've got to give a Classmate of the Day to Quinn Dupont.  I approached him with a pretty crazy idea last night and he's in.  So I'm not going to say too much about it now but hopefully you'll hear more about in the weeks and months to come if the tech gods are willing.)

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Facebook does let you categorize friends to some extent – when you enter the “how you knothem details,” you can then search based for your work/school/room mate/hookup/club friends. Not *quite* what you were getting at (and yes, you idea is a nice step forward), but it is something.

    Posted 23 Feb 2007 at 4:18 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    I didn't realise that – 90% of my friends are either “Facebooked randomly” or “Went to grad school together” so there's still not a lot of room for categorization. That's actually another suggestion I'd have – they could expand the ways that you know people, the types of relationships you define with people and things like that.

    Posted 23 Feb 2007 at 4:41 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Musings on Facebook:
    – I caught a mild form of the Facebook addiction last weekend, when I was figuring out what it was all about, how to change my profile, upload a photo, and add friends. I joined so I'd know what the teens in the library were doing (it's called “being hip with the kids”) and my initial reaction was “this is great!” But now, I'm with you … I'm kind of wondering what it's for when it's not my primary form of communication.
    – It seems to me that a big part of the appeal is collecting, er um, adding friends. But by what criteria do you judge a “friend”??? Certainly not the same as in real life. Categorizing friends according to where you know them from doesn't account for different levels of trust and closeness. There's no way to distinguish a casual acquaintance from a kindred spirit. And short of email messages, everyone can see your photos and writings on your wall and shares and all that kind of thing. So you can't (or shouldn't) be so open with everyone. There must be some way to set some limits, but I haven't yet figured out how to do it.
    – What is the ettiquette for Facebook relationships? I've already run into two friend requests that I don't really want to accept, but it feels awfully harsh rejecting them. Are we compelled to accept every invitation, and if not, then why do I *feel* compelled? One is a guy I went to highschool with, who I didn't ever even talk to back then. Not anyone that I want to have contact with now, at any rate. How do I reject him out of hand? I mean, there's no real explanation to give. It's just awkward. And the second scenario is kids from camp, who know me and who I know, so again rejecting doesn't seem like a valid option. But it also seems kind of unprofessional to break down the barriers that I kept while I was working there. It's one thing to include young staff as my friends. I don't know about campers. Where are the boundaries?
    – All of which brings me to the ultimate point – that Facebook is truly SOCIAL software, not just social networking. The point is not what you *do* on there. It's about how many friends you have and how many groups you belong to. It's about feeling connected in a world where physical and emotional connectivity is growing increasingly scarce, and so virtual connections are filling the void. Where email is now the virtual version of having an intimate conversation with someone you're close to, Facebook is more like being able to wave and nod to someone at the mall. You can virtually acknowledge them, but you don't have to interact much. Not sure if I'm articulating this well or not. I guess what I'm saying is that, even as I'm getting into it a bit more, I'm finding it all to be just a little bit … sad.
    As for “playfully stalking” … perhaps “curiously stalking” describes what you're doing? It's not with any ill will or malicious intent, it's just idle curiosity about people you know?

    Posted 25 Feb 2007 at 11:36 pm
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    There's a definite network effect in that the more friends you add, the more useful/engaging Facebook is. When I first joined and only had a few friends, I rarely checked it.
    But then I saw there was no group for people from Saskatchewan so I set one up. Suddenly, the group ballooned to 100+ members (~600 now). I sent out an e-mail asking those 100 to add me, a number did, and all of a sudden, I had a bunch of new “friends” who I'd never met in real life (although the Sask connection did lead to some cool “six degrees of separation” moments – one guy who had a cottage near my family's, someone who knew my cousin, a guy who'd stayed in our condo when we moved to Calgary but that I never met in person!)
    And in terms of the people I'd never met, it was nice to have that connection, no matter how tenuous, to a guy who worked as a page in the Senate or somebody who was at Yale or a couple Saskies who ended up at UWO (though I never did meet them in person.)
    The next boost was the slow trickle of FIMS'ers who've been joining in the last few months and I obviously took a greater interest in these people's comings and goings since I knew them personally.
    Your point about what defines a “friend” (at least on Facebook) reinforces my point that we should be able to set up unlimited sub-groups – maybe you have “friends from camp” and “acquaintances from camp” and “people from camp who added me but I'll never talk to again” and so on. Facebook is highly configurable already so I'm sure they'd let you set privacy controls for each sub-group to control what/who could see/do what.
    I was going to put something in my original post about not being able to see who you've invited to be a friend that hasn't responded being a failing. But I can see why this isn't a feature – as you say, turning someone down is a bit awkward.
    If e-mail is an intimate conversation, is Facebook the mall as you say? I don't know – that's close but it's hard to come up with a perfect analogy. Maybe it's more like a never-ending weekend festival where you meet a bunch of mostly college-aged people you know and people you don't, hang out in ever-changing groups, share photos and information, make statements about yourself and play a role? I'm stretching this I think but that's a bit closer to what I think of Facebook as.
    One other thought on Facebook groups – right now, their purpose almost seems simply to be an extra way to define yourself beyond your profile. None of them seem to be very active in terms of message boards/discussion. So instead, people join a group about a TV show they like or a political stance they take or whatever, that's easily accessible to any of your friends via your profile and allows them to learn a bit more about who you are (or think you are.)
    Here's a good article I came across about a college prof who decided to join Facebook and wrestled with some of the same issues that we are. I think Facebook is still a bit of a strange hinterland for those of us who are just a bit older than their 18-25 demographic and aren't as aware of the conventions or as comfortable with the free-wheeling nature of the beast.
    Why I Registered on Facebook. By: Lemeul, John. Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/1/2006, Vol. 53 Issue 2, p113-113, 1p; (AN 22299683)

    Posted 27 Feb 2007 at 5:33 am

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