When Facebook loses its value

I was just procrastinating and browsing the Web when I came across this video by Sarah Lane (formerly of PopSiren on Revision3) where Sarah asks what the best practice is for adding friends on Facebook? Do you add as many people as you can or do you limit the numbers using some or other criteria?

Sarah’s Question #1: Facebook Etiquette from sarahlane on Vimeo.

I have tended to approach my social networks on a “more is better” basis and add virtually everyone in my address book. I was recently reminded that this isn’t the way to go, at least not on LinkedIn, and it got me thinking that adding more people to a social network can actually diminish its utility and value. If you add more people than you actually, genuinely, know then everyone pretty much fades into background noise. You just wind up with far too many people to keep tabs on and maintain meaningful relationships with. When it comes to social networks like Facebook and business networks like LinkedIn, it probably isn’t that helpful to you. LinkedIn has this to say about quality versus quantity:

Thoughtfully select those people you know and trust because these are the people you will seek advice from and request a recommendation about your/other’s quality of work. Because of this, the quality of your contacts is always more important than the quantity of contacts. It is important you know your connections because you may be asked to recommend one of your connections to another. If you know little about the connection you weaken the integrity of the recommendation and your network. As a result, little value will be placed on the recommendation by others.

On a more personal level, it is almost impossible to use a network like Facebook to maintain and even improve personal relationships with hundreds or thousands of people so it only makes sense to add as many people as you can if you see Facebook largely as a one way communication channel. Jeff Pulver dealt with this issue a couple weeks ago in one of his blog posts:

It turns out Facebook doesn’t believe it is possible for someone to maintain 5,000 “friendships” regardless how any of us define what exactly constitutes being a friend. The last time I reached out to Facebook for help about raising the limit of the number of people who can be in my friend’s name space, I was told: “Most of our users don’t have 5,000+ “friends.” At that level, Facebook is not about real connections, but more about promoting a business. We developed Facebook Pages for that reason.”

Jeff seems to be more in favour of increasing the 5 000 friend limit on Facebook but I am beginning to think that less is really more when it comes to these social networks. I suppose you could look at it as a sort of long tail take on social networks (lots of smaller networks adding more value?) or just emphasising keeping the numbers at levels that are more conducive for keeping it all real and authentic. I am beginning to believe that it is more important to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with people than it is to add numbers. There are other services that are better suited as one to many communication channels and I am happy to add more numbers there. These services include my blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed and similar services. When it comes to my social network service (Facebook) and my business network service (LinkedIn), more meaningful connections are more important.

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2 responses to “When Facebook loses its value

  1. Steve Hayes avatar

    I get sick of people adding me as a “friend” on things like Blog Catalog when they cley obviously haven't even bothered to read any of my blogs. Is there a polite way of telling such people to piss off?

    I really wish there was a social networking site that would allow one to distinguish between close family, extended family, close friends, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, business contacts, and online contacts, and to show them different stuff. There is stuff I wouldn't mind sharing with a friend of a friend, but not with an acquaintance of an acquaintance, or a “friend” of a “friend” (neither of whom I know at all, and neither of whom wants to know me (or they would have read my blog).

    PS What's happened to Wired Gecko? Who is Go Daddy?

    PPS Happy holidays, as the Americans say.

  2. pauljacobson avatar

    Hi Steve

    Facebook gives you the ability to define a number of groups and determine what you show to members of those groups. It probably doesn't allow for the granularity you may be looking for but it is the closest to what you describe.

    Wired Gecko used to be this blog's name and Go Daddy is a domain name registrar.

    Happy new year to you too.

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