Posts about facebook

Friendship is complicated

Via Facebook friend Kathryn Corrick, here’s a good post by Meg Pickard on the issues raised by Facebook’s one-size-fits-all definition of friend and the need for more subtle layers. I agree; most Facebook friends of all stripes I know would agree as well. Combining college friends with work friends with friend-friends with family results in strange and for some uncomfortable juxtapositions of lives — the keg party next to the romance next to the job. And that will only be amplified as young people on Facebook grow older and get new lives.

On the other hand, one can easily overcomplicate this, trying to fit friends into strict definitions. And I think that’s where Meg may be headed in her post. There is a natural reflex to try to order everything in our worlds. But life is essentially disordered, isn’t it?

The bottom line, I think, is that what we want from Facebook is more tools to show some folks some stuff and others other stuff and let us deal with that. Pownce is doing that with the ability to publish to everyone, just friends, or just a group of friends. Smart.

But what I want from the larger web is also the ability to present different identities made up of various bits of my stuff: a combination of the work me (this blog or most posts from it, boring Flickr conference photos, Twitters from those conference, and so on), the home me (family photos, including an embarrassing one I’ll soon share of me on a Segway, and the occasional personal post from here), past me (college friends), local me (my Zip Code blogging organized thanks to, and so on.

Pickard lays out the problem simply and graphically:

The trouble with Facebook is that it’s a confused social space. There are too many different facets of personality being exposed through social openness. So much so, in fact, that it gets a bit difficult to manage. For example, at present on Facebook, I have (among others) the following listed as “Friends”:

* My husband
* Several people I’ve known since I was 11
* College friends I haven’t talked to in 15 years
* My boss
* A couple of people from university I’d lost touch with
* Several people I know from t’internet, but haven’t met / don’t actually know
* A few people on a mailing list I belong to
* A handful of family members
* A few people who work for me
* At least one ex boyfriend
* People who I’ve seen around the office but never exchanged more than words of greeting with

While I obviously wouldn’t have connected with these people via Facebook if I hadn’t wanted to, it’s pushing the definition a bit to lump all of them together into the same bucket, labelled “friends”. Why? Because most of them aren’t strictly friends (although they’re all lovely, obviously).

Yes, and I also wish on Facebook that I could add unfriends — the people I don’t know but may want to and vice versa, the people whose befriendings I’ve ignored because of the way Facebook works. This isn’t a matter of privacy, which is usually where the discussion heads: Facebook allows me to show certain people next to nothing of me, but I find that practically insulting to them. No, the real issue it that there are other side-effects of becoming Facebook friends: They enter into my News Feed and have an unknown impact on it (if 12 of the people I really know add an app, that means one thing; if 24 people I don’t know add it, that means, well, not less, but at least something different). Also, my friends say something about me and I about them; the fact that identities and relationships on Facebook are real is, I believe, the essence of its value. So it matters when I befriend someone; it doesn’t mean I’ve made a new friend but rather than I’m confirming a real-life friend. There’s one rather, uh, eccentric fellow who keeps trying to befriend me and everyone out there. I know he’s no more their friend than mine in real life. So when I see him befriended on someone’s page, I know that they are not, shall we say, discriminating. And that says something to me about their relationships with other friends on their lists. It devalues those links. So I try to keep my friend’s list real.

Now having said that, the irony of this post is that I asked the aforementioned Kathryn Corrick to befriend me even though we don’t know each other outside Facebook. But we have a number of friends in common and I bumped into her following the same interests. I had a question for her about something she’d done that related to something I’m doing and CUNY and after a helpful email exchange — and because her smiling Facebook picture makes her look so, well, friendly — I made the ping. And because I did, I saw the link to Meg Pickard’s post in my News Feed and I’m the better for it. Happy ending. But danger lurks there. No, not that I’m a masher; I mean danger for Facebook. It is not, as Mark Zuckerberg has pointed out, intended as a place to make friends but a place to organize friendships. Indiscriminate friend-making is what did in Friendster and devalues MySpace and turns LinkedIn into human spam (I just had to go through 20 clicks to stop its incessant email). So that’s why someone created a Facebook app that enables friends to recommend friends to others, to put some order on that process, too (sadly, I can’t get it working; guess I don’t look friendly). That is the genius of the Facebook platform: People will likely use it to solve Meg’s issues and mine.

But it’ll never be perfect. Life isn’t. Friendship is complicated.


I went to a Facebook developers’ hackathon last night at Thumbplay in New York. I wasn’t the invited participant. Son Jake was. I was merely the chauffeur. Nonetheless, it was a nonvirtual Facebook for me, for I found all sorts of friends there: developer colleague, show-biz pal, investment guy, political geek. Everybody’s into Facebook.

The excitement of having this easy, quick platform and built-in audience and new architecture of content and interaction was palpable. David Henderson of Social Media reminded the group that this has exploded in only 45 days. There have been 125 million app installations and it just keeps growing: more people, more apps. . . . and we haven’t even hit Labor Day and the return to school yet.

What we don’t know is the churn of these apps — only the net growth, not the number who drop off and are replaced. A lot of these apps have a half-life like show business, only accelerated: cool comes and cool goes. But others will become fundamental to this new social architecture. I don’t think the fundamental ones have been invented yet.

There was, of course, a lot of discussion about monetization, with one skeptic in the crowd drawing everyone else’s justification and inspiration regarding revenue: the discussion turned into a human wiki. There’s advertising, of course, and direct-response and barter and loyalty points systems and virtual currencies and also research. Henderson said that at the food fight app, users started with $10 to buy rotten tomatoes but wanted more and so they offered food fight currency in exchange for answering market research questions. To date, he said, they’ve received 20 million responses: 80,000 users per day, 25 per user. That’s what excites them all: instant scale.

There was, of course, much discussion of what Facebook allows and doesn’t allow and what’s behind every decision. Jake chuckled at all the Kremlinology that was going on. “They’re overthinking,” he said. Some things are done just because they’re done, no vast conspiracy.

What excites me most is the prospect of the pipe reversing: using Facebook to help organize the larger social infrastructure that is the web already. I’ve suggested to folks that they use Facebook’s real identity to feed real identity on their sites and forums. One participant said Facebook will plug into the social grid of the web. Or was that vice versa?

Open your drawers

I’m getting pissed off at people on Facebook who have their privacy settings adjusted so that when they try to befriend me and I try to see who they are, they keep me from seeing anything about them. A fine way to start a friendship. I am ignoring them all. Pshaw.

And who says Facebook has no value?

It just informed me that I share a birthday with Arianna Huffington. Happy birthday, Arianna. (It’s Sunday, by the way. We also share it with my Facebook friends Tara Hunt and Iain Dale.)

Towns are hyperlocal social networks with data (people that is)

I think I’ve been thinking about hyperlocal the wrong way. Like most everyone else chasing this golden fleece, I’ve defined it as content, news, a product, listings, data, software, sites, ads. It’s not. Local is people: who knows what, who knows whom, who’s doing what (and, yes, who’s doing whom). The question should be — in Mark Zuckerberg’s famous-if-I-have-anything-to-do-about-it phrase — how we bring them elegant organization. They already are a community, already doing what they want to do, already knowing stuff. How can we help them do that better?

Local is people. Our job is not to deliver content or a product. Our job is to help them make connections with information and each other.

In truth, that was, long ago, the job newspapers saw for themselves. That’s why they lived to get as many names in the paper as possible. They knew: Local is people. Newspapers gave us news that mattered to us and would be trivial to anyone else. Newspapers were small and local and served their communities — and their advertisers — better. This is very close to the real mission of a newspaper, a mission we have lost as they got bigger and more egotistical and more powerful, as they become one-size-fits-all monopolies. Except today we have new tools (and new competitors). No one can or should do it all anymore. We need to help people do it themselves. Yes, themselves.

I’m not suggesting that hyperlocal is just a social networking tool. Or just a forum. Or just a bunch of blogs. Or just a listings tool. Or just a search engine. Or just a news site. It needs to end up being all those things and more. And as I said the other day, this will not happen in one place, on one site, but will be distributed across wherever people are being people and communities communities, locally. The trick, once more, is to organize it all. Elegantly.

And this will not happen all on its own. It needs investment, motivation, leadership, shared and distributed ownership.

What exactly does this look like? I’m not sure yet. I’m working on that. But I’m getting a better idea, I think, by working from a new starting point: People, not content. People, not data. People, not software. Long ago, when I launched the GoSkokie project at Northwestern’s Medill, I told the students that towns know things I wanted them to figure out how to tap that keg of knowledge. They got partway there with (which was a model for Backfence, by the way), but that was only partway.

I now believe that he who figures out how to help people organize themselves — letting them connect with each other and with what they all know — will end up with news, listings, reviews, data, gossip, and more as byproducts.

Thoughts from the beach. Stay tuned.

Howie & friends on Facebook

Here’s my apperance on Howard Kurtz’s Reliable Sources yesterday with Ana Marie Cox. Subject: Facebook.

On the other hand

Nick Douglas complains at Valleywag:

Remember when all you had to worry about on Facebook was some awkward acquaintance adding you on Facebook too soon? (You know, like they talked to you at lunch once and instantly wanted to be your friend?) Maybe sometimes you got invited to the “Two and a Half Men is TV’s Greatest Show” group? But now I’m getting bombarded with crap like “Jim-bob wants to share movies with you” and “Janiqua wants to share secrets.” No, I don’t want “free gifts.” No, I don’t want to be a zombie. No, iDon’tLike. So stop spamming me every time you get an app. (Unless it’s that rocking graffiti wall.)

Right. Letting the world in won’t ruin Facebook (because we still see only a small part of that world). Opening up Facebook to apps will only help it. But apps that spam us? Stop! Please! If I told you once, I told you a hundred times, I don’t want to share bookshelves with you.

Too many friends

I tried to use Friendwheel to analyze my Facebook friends and their connections. I was told that I had too many. Heaven forbid.


I needed to come up with a list of people who could help me with something I’m doing at CUNY — a very neat project in entrepreneurial journalism I’ll blog about shortly — and so it was quite handy to just dig into my list of Facebook friends and find likely prospects. I also find that I’m making contacts with people in new ways. For me, it’s more effective than LinkedIn has ever been and I’m not sure why that is: maybe it’s more fun; maybe it’s because I have more friends; maybe it’s because it became hotter and so lots of my friends joined. By the way, I maintain my policy of friending only people I know. I wish there were a way for me to meet the other people I don’t yet know. I’m not sure what that is; to have tiers of friendship sounds awfully snobbish. But maybe there’s a need to have virtual mixers.