Aug 16, 2007
Another post in the series of musings about Facebook as user experience and social microcosm…
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).
Or rather, they may well be friends, but not all friends are equal. As we all know, there are different sorts of relationships, some of which are better kept distinct.
Put simply, I wouldn’t consider having a party to which they were all invited at the same time – apart from a wedding – so how can I expect to engage with them socially in a single setting online?
And most people I know are in the same boat.
Where in life we are each at the centre of a Venn diagram of all our social groups…
…in Facebook, it’s one big mixer.
All contacts are friends, regardless of their relationship.
Because the Facebook permissions are limited to being handled at the groups/networks level (rather than by individual), everyone who is now my “friend” has access to everything I publish – and vice versa. As a result, there are two main effects:
- I know way more about some of them than I would otherwise
There’s something about Facebook which encourages possibly ill-advised blind over-information, to the point that (via status updates, photos, relationship updates and more) I now know when people’s personal circumstances change from being “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated” (never a good sign) or “single” (and I never know what to say – “sorry”? “congratulations”?); whether they’re looking for “anything they can get” (which sounds sinister, somehow) or just “friends”; when they go out and get pissed (and the drunken facebook wall-to-wall conversations they have when under the influence); their religious and political views (and I’m actually quite surprised, in some cases); the terrible haircut they had when they were at university plus what they looked like on their wedding day; how they feel at any particular moment and perhaps nosiest of all, who else they know.
It’s rifling through someone’s address book, diary, photo album, round-robin christmas letter and lonely hearts ad, all at once. It’s observing someone out of your mutual context.
Consequently, I get to see my boss at play, my friends talking talking to other friends I don’t know, behaving differently. I get to see my old schoolfriends – who are destined to remain forever teenagers in my head – with families and MBAs and civil partners and bald patches.
It feels like snooping. It is snooping. Socially-sanctioned snooping, but still…
- Since all the social connections are lumped together in one place, I’m at a loss as to what is relevant/appropriate to share
I’m acutely aware of all these people watching – being notified about – my every move on Facebook. When I play another round of the world trivia game, everyone is told what my score is. When I add a new friend, there’s an announcement. When I change my status, or add a website to my profile, or decide to change political views from “liberal” to “woolly liberal”, everyone gets to know about it. It’s like having my own personal entourage of sports commentator (“Ah now, that’s interesting, Meg’s just joined the Cheese Lovers group”), Master of Ceremonies (“Meg is now friends with Bob!”) and Town Crier (“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! It’s eleven o’clock and all’s well! And Meg is feeling hungry!”)
And then there’s the content of those actions – what’s the appropriate level, given that everyone’s watching, and a weird combination of people at that?
I’m constantly aware of being snooped on as much as I snoop on others. Whatever I write, or add, or play is going to be potentially (mis)interpreted differently by every “friend” on there. As a result, the lowest common denominator for values of “appropriate and relevant” information usually wins – i.e. nothing.
So what’s the solution? How could Facebook work to ensure less
paranoia social awkwardness?
Well, here’s one solution – one way, if you like, to use the existing functional constraints to be able to disclose certain bits of information to certain people.
Step one: Create personal invite-only groups for friends, colleagues, etc
Step two: Ask existing “friends” to join these, as appropriate. One person might be a member of several groups.
Step three: De-friend all your “friends” so that your only relationship with them is as fellow members of a group for which you are the admin
Step four: Adjust your notification/privacy permissions on a group by group basis. So, one group (“good friends”) might have access to your full profile, while another (“work colleagues”) will only have access to your wall and status updates.
If you do all this, you’ll end up with something that looks a bit more like this:
It might just work, you know.