Facebook’s growing pains: there’s my friends, and then my real friends…

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stu-mugshot2.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

What defines a Facebook friend? When I first joined up, it was easy: my first few friends were, well, friends. People I hang out with in the real world, when I’m not geeking out in front of a computer. It didn’t take long to decide that this was a neater way to all stay in touch digitally than our previous method (Yahoo Groups, since you ask).

But as Facebook has grown, that’s changed. On the one hand, it’s encroaching onto Friends Reunited’s territory – several people I went to school with and haven’t seen since are now on my Facebook friend list. On the other, it’s verging into LinkedIn’s territory, with a load of work contacts adding me – even people I’ve only spoken to a couple of times.

The problem? There’s no way at the moment to keep these groups apart – it’s all just one big jumble of ‘friends’.

So when I post a status update, it appears on the feeds of all those people, regardless of whether I want to manage how I appear to those different groups. And their updates appear on my feed, so some more casual contacts who update loads of times a day are pushing my actual friends down or off the page.

facebook-friends.jpgMeanwhile, every time I join a new group or add a new application, I start wondering if all those separate groups of friends will approve, be disgusted, or think I’m a still a saddo spod who can’t play rugby (that’ll be the classmates then). It’s all a bit restrictive.

What’s that? The answer is ‘be true to yourself, and then there’s nothing to get embarrassed about’? Yeah, right. For the vast majority of us, surviving life is about presenting different facets of yourself to different people according to the situation. The problem of the all-encompassing ‘friend’ seen on social networking sites is that it tramples down these very necessary barriers.

Facebook does have privacy options, but they still lump friends into one group – it’s more about stipulating how much of your content general users can see. So what’s the answer?

What I want is a friend hierarchy.

I want to be able to set different levels of friends. So there’s the friends who can see everything about me, including all my status updates and silly groups that I only joined because I thought it would raise a smirk from six people. There’d be the work contacts who would see the slightly less sensitive stuff.

And then there’d be the people who only see specific status updates about how rich / successful / handsome / modest I am since they actually knew me in the real world. If my Nan ever gets onto Facebook, there’d be another category for her, just for status updates about how I’m eating healthily and only drink one small glass of sherry a week.

It’d be a bit complex – you’d need to set these groups up and then administer them whenever someone added you as a friend. And it would bring a whole new set of worries, such as whether your friends know which friend category you’ve sorted them into, and whether they’ll get the arse if you don’t make them a top friend.

Still, as Facebook continues to grow, there needs to be some separation between friend friends, work friends, family friends and long-lost friends. Otherwise, who knows who I’ll manage to offend, and end up losing friends. Who may or may not be actual friends. Or something.

Stuart Dredge
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One thought on “Facebook’s growing pains: there’s my friends, and then my real friends…

  • I concur. I’ve even gone so far as to mention this to Facebook a number of times in the near past. Here’s my proposed two-part solution to this problem:

    1) Be able to lump friends into different groups (ie: high school, work, university, soccer team, etc.) each group having different privacy settings. Also, allowing for all friends to be in multiple groups (with the least-restrictive privacy setting would applying to them in this case).

    2) On top of sifting people into groups, also allow for certain friends to be labeled as “Contacts” (or some other such less-friendly term) a group of people who, though they may be found in the High School Group or the Soccer Team Group or the Work Group of friends, you really don’t care about and only want them in the background, should you ever need to contact them. These people would never show up in your News-Feed, and they’d have only minimal access to your profile… perhaps only the option of messaging you via Facebook, were the need to arise.

    I am hoping that the developers look into this matter as soon as possible: I’m growing REALLY tired of being in constant touch with everyone on my list. If nothing’s done soon, I might just go on a huuuuge Friend-deleting spree, which I’m sure would insult a number of people…

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