Facebook needs work

I am by far not the first to point this out, but it bears repetition: Facebook has some big problems with its matrix for defining relationships among friends.

The first generation of social networks were mocked for offering only a simple binary choice of “friend” or “not friend.” Facebook — which started as a network for college students, but opened its doors to the world a few months ago, and is now growing like mad — isn’t much of an improvement. But at least it lets you fill in some blanks and better define your relationship with particular friends.

Each time you confirm a “friend request” from someone on Facebook, you’re confronted with a screen that asks for details. This is the list of options:

How do you know [this friend]?
Lived together
Worked together
From an organization or team
Took a course together
From a summer / study abroad program
Went to school together
Traveled together
In my family
Through a friend
Through Facebook
Met randomly
We hooked up
We dated
I don’t even know this person.

This is a great list if you are 19 years old. It is pretty much useless for the rest of us. And even if you try to use the “worked together” feature, you will get tripped up.

For instance: I know a developer named Jake Savin because he worked at Userland during the period when Userland and Salon ran a blogging program together. Jake just sent me a “Friend request” and asked me to confirm that we “worked together.” I’m happy to do this; but Facebook seems to believe that “worked together” can only mean “worked together at the same company” — so if I confirm Jake’s request, Facebook seems to think I’m saying that I, too, worked for Userland. Which is ridiculous. There’s no tool by which one can express the many shades of relationship as they exist outside of a campus environment.

Facebook has garnered enormous attention from the media and from developers since it opened its platform to allow other companies to build “Facebook applications” that add new capabilities to the Facebook system. But Facebook’s social-networking design needs some basic plumbing work. Before some other company plunks down a few billion for Facebook’s hotness — or before the investment bankers take it public — some basic upgrades are in order.
[tags]social networks, facebook, friending[/tags]

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. It basically is for 19-year-olds. It has the potential to be the looser, funner LinkedIn, perhaps — but if it doesn’t grow up, it will just be the neater, slicker MySpace!

  2. Facebook relationships are still essentially binary – friend/not friend. The ‘limited profile’ feature affords somewhat of a gray area in between but it’s, well, limited.
    For Facebook to be really effective at reflecting offline relationships online, it needs to be able to understand how well I know someone. This might involve a few different types of relationships (friend, acquaintance, colleague, family) each with it’s own user-customizable level of privacy (a la the limited profile). Simply allowing users to create multiple limited profiles would probably do the trick.

  3. Actually, almost no teenager is using those: you just know people because they were on campus at a point, or you met at a party–both cases which aren’t considered. These tools are warnings, limitations to the friendship: you have to read them as β€œHe isn’t actually a friend: he’s quite lame to tell the truth, but I had to accept his friend-ing offer because. . .”

    Just click Skip.

  4. Well, to be honest, LinkedIn, which is for business networking, is deficient too in that sense.

    There are no options for business relations other than worked together or did business together.

    You have other kind of relations, for example you might meet at a conference or networked in another sense and not have their business card and email. If your not in the 2 existing business relations, in theory, you need their email to connect with them.

  5. This is a problem for me and I am only 17 years old. Yes for all of my friends that age the current system works great. But what about that person who I met at a conference, whose blog I read, whose Twitter I follow, who has done podcast interviews with me, or who has been a part of collaborative projects I have started.

    For now I just say that we “Met randomly” and fill in the details.

  6. Gunteman

    I also find it annoying that everything is in past tense. How about “work together”? Even “From an organization or team” ends up being something in the past.


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