Lessons From Facebook Or Online Social Networks May Be Too Social

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Two instincts kick in when you join any online social network:
1. Add as many people as you can.
2. The more people you’re connected with the better you feel.
Why is that?
Where is the value in adding people you hardly know and why do we feel better about the quantity over quality? There’s got to be something about our mammalian brain that flicks a switch. I’ve seen it happen when email first came out, then instant messenger and I’m certainly seeing it now with Twitter and online social networks like Facebook.
This weekend my niece and I (she’s thirteen) set-up a Facebook account for me. Now that Facebook is taking over as the “it” social network du jour, I figured I would be under-serving my team and clients if I did not know how it works and what makes it different from other online social networks. I shot out a quick Twitter post reporting that I had set-up the Facebook account with my niece. Within moments, people were not only trying to add me as their “friend”, but were also adding my niece and sending her messages. Weird… and uncool.
My first move was to remove my niece (easy enough). Then, as the days passed on I started getting “friend requests.” Most of them I didn’t understand. Why would most of these people want to connect to me as a friend? Most of them hardly knew me. Most of them never even dropped me an email when they switched jobs or moved to another city.
Back to those two online social network instincts. It’s not important if we’re really friends as much as if the other person is validated because their own network is strong in numbers. There were some key learnings that really shined: a real online social network needs to be as strong as your in-person social network. We all know that a handful of friends will always be stronger than an alphabetized laundry list of acquaintances, but online, it’s still a number’s game.
How great can Forbidden‘s friendships be on MySpace with her 1,263,684 “friends”? How are we “keeping score” and defining true value in online social networks?
Upon reflection, if I can’t keep my niece (who is a friend) as a friend… what does that really say about the power of online social networks?
I’m not being down on online social networks (I’m still loving LinkedIn, Twitter, etc…). I am questioning how the eco-system can stay intact and powerful if the real power behind the online social network is in how many people you have instead of who you have. There will be abuse and there will be stories of greatness (I’ve had my share of both). I guess like real world social networks, they are only as strong and integrity-based as the people you allow to be a part of it.


  1. The hundreds, thousands, and millions of friends are not sustainable… over the long term you’ll see that they will likely be around 150, Dunbar’s number

  2. The one thing these networks need to incorporate is a friendship strength message. That way, the folks who want to go for numbers can do so, and we can opt to participate or not, but reserve our “inner circle” spots for people we actually know.

  3. Mitch, I couldn’t agree with you more, I set up my Facebook account today for the same reason (I need to practice what I preach at work and be familiar with everything and anything Web 2.0). After throwing Facebook friend requests in the junk folder for the last year, i figured i’d give it a try. Same thought crossed my mind as “acquaintances” raced to add me to their networks…at least Facebook lets you add a note as to “how” you know the person. Nonetheless, it’s a new very transparent approach to social networks and i’m curious where it will go considering how easy it will be for rogue unethical marketers to abuse it.

  4. As much as I dislike MySpace, it provides some great evidence to your post. I’d started to notice recently that MySpace “friends” aren’t really friends – they’re generic connections. On MySpace, I can consider bands, podcasts, and even businesses and events “friends”. Their Top 8 model is great for showing closest connections, but Chris is completely correct in saying that there should be some sort of strength indicator.
    I like Facebook much better; they seem to have a better grasp on what will make a social networking site successful. You can get some sort of relationship strength by viewing a person’s friends and sorting by connection type at the top of the list; their Social Timeline is a nice visual way to see how long the connection has existed.
    All I know is that I keep getting MySpace friend requests with pretty, um, intimate shots of women. On top of that, “Jennifer” looked exactly the same as “Kara” and “Beth”. Small world, I guess. Or maybe Mike’s predictions about ethics have come true already.

  5. Hey Mitch,
    I have to agree with Christopher, there needs to be a way to indicate who are the close friends of mine and who are the people I once knew and now only have the pleasure of having small glimpses into how they are doing now. That being said, I have a ton of friends on facebook, coming close to the 300 mark now. Am I close to all of these people, no not in any way shape or form, some of them I have no idea who they are and where they came from. Do I like the fact that they are on my friends list, yes and no. I really enjoy the fact that I have “friends” on my facebook account that I have not seen or talked to since high school. There is a reason I have not talked to them since, maybe we have different goals, visions for life or don’t have anything in common at all, but I still respected them as people in high school and respect them now. I think it is awesome that I can take a quick glimpse at their lives and see what became of them, drop them a joke that was funny in high school or just say hi after all these years. I am a social butterfly, I have a lot of acquaintances, although I don’t really see them as close friend’s I think it is awesome to see how they are doing and when I see some sort of mile stone posted, I got a new job, moving into a new apartment etc. I love being able to pop by their page and drop a little note saying congrats. The thing I think that’s the best about facebook, I find it easy to keep up on my close friend’s and it’s nice to see from time to time what people I once knew are doing or are successful at. Anyways, maybe it’s my age and still wanting to be every one’s friend and please the world but for now I am having a blast keeping in touch with old friend’s that time has taken and hearing what people are doing and thinking these days. Am I wrong, maybe, but to each there own I suppose
    Adam Dufresne

  6. Mitch,
    Might I suggest you try out Fast Pitch? http://www.fastpitchnetworking.com
    It’s described as a Facebook for Business. Not as faceless and boring as LinkedIn… and not nearly as adolescent and social as Facebook or MySpace.
    It’s starting to gain some real momentum in the business community as people are using it to distribute press, blogs and obviously make connections.
    If you are interested, check out this comparison chart outlining the differences of some of the largest business networks including LinkedIn (http://www.fastpitchnetworking.com/compare.cfm)
    I also thought you might be interested in reading the CEO of Fast Pitch’s latest blog post. Not too dissimilar from yours!
    Good Luck!
    David S.

  7. I guess what facebook admin should add or integrate in facebook platform is the option to categorize friends from close to not so close. And each group has certain level of profile access from the user. for example, if one belons to a “not so close” group of friends.. he or she could only see the posts but not the pictures or other information wherein the user don’t want to share to her.

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