The other day, a bout of online drama made me wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to make my online activities a little more private – hide my Twitter feed, for example, and maybe un-friend some people on Facebook to restrict it to just my “core” friends.
Do I actually want to know what 281 people are doing?
But in doing so, I thought for probably the first time about the direction Facebook has taken with regards to friendships and viewing friends’ updates.
Firstly, unlike Twitter, when someone you know “friends” you on Facebook, the socially acceptable thing to do is to accept. Rather than saying “it’s great that you’re interested in me, but I’m not as interested in you, so I won’t ‘follow’ you back,” Facebook mandates a two-way interest. So if someone “friends” you, you either have to ignore them (and feel slightly guilty about it) or commit yourself to seeing their updates.
Secondly, Facebook is becoming less of a place to catch up with friends, and more of an identity service (which has been accelerated with the new Timeline profiles). Your Facebook profile defines you; tells others who you are and who you know. This adds to the impetus to “friend” people you don’t really care about that much – you’re not so much expressing an interest in another person as defining who you are. And that, of course, also lumbers you with looking at their updates all the time.
It’s obvious that this is a common issue, and rather than backpedal or restrict the way Facebook wants to take its service, their response has been to add complex filtering options that let you block specific users and apps, view only updates from various groups, and recently, adding an automated filter that tries to guess which updates you’ll want to see.
Personally, I prefer using Facebook via the API (using SuccessWhale) which avoids the automated filter, but I must still block the updates of people I don’t care much about manually. I’d quite like to cull my Facebook friends list down to just those whose updates I actually care about. But is doing so a reasonable way of reducing my information overload – or willingly damaging an identity that I spent the last four years trying to curate?