The best way to look like a superfuturist guru is to predict the demise of the current big thing. Social overload is leading some to wonder if, rather than being the year of ubiquitous social web, 2010 might just be the year social eats itself.
People are muttering about social networks not scaling. Overfriending, social lines blurring, and etiquette confusion are sucking the fun out of Facebook. We know you can only maintain about 150 meaningful connections, and that as networks get bigger they turn from conversations back into broadcasting. Group inertia also keeps us mired where our group already is—no one seems to be asking for one more network to log in to, update, and remake connections on. Google Buzz did not entice my mother-in-law.
I’m not sure it’s the number of friendships we’re trying to maintain, it’s the intrusion of different kinds of relationships into inappropriate spaces. It’s like when your spouse shows up at work and it’s so incongruous to see them there that you act weird in front of your work friends. You know?
“It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”
Web 3.0 (don’t roll your eyes) is gonna be about signal to noise. Connecting everyone was great, but it turns out we don’t like everyone. Filters like lists are weak at this point, whether to limit their adoption (more sharing = more revenue) or because demand hasn’t been great enough. But if Big Social doesn’t want to see a precipitous decline in participation, they need to hire a few usability experts and make it happen.
So Facebook is where my robust profile resides, and where I’m most likely to contribute to conversations. You can have the most holistic relationship with me there. As such, I’m ending up friending people I haven’t met IRL, and Facebook is becoming less of a front-porch-with-a-beer and more of a cordial-nod-at-the-grocery-store experience. I kinda like beer. But I’m scared to say so, because Senior People Are Watching. Socializing just became brand building, ugh. What can we do to get that down-home feeling back? How can I associate with people who like my blog without them seeing me in my jammies?
The smartest thing Facebook could do would be to introduce a secondary request system, “Professional Request”, and scoop LinkedIn. I belong to LinkedIn but don’t use it, in part so as not to replicate effort. Facebook could make LinkedIn utterly irrelevant by allowing users to add professional contacts that would receive limited (or different) profile access – perhaps restricting photos, video, and application activities (Farmville, I’m talking to you), highlighting instead fan pages and status updates. This pared down sharing would become the accepted new norm for professional relationships within Facebook, allowing users to keep their Dunbar 150 in the lifestream loop while still offering aquaintances limited access, including messaging. With etiquette in place to govern this dual stream of relationships, users can feel more confident expanding their personal networks to include people they haven’t met IRL and with whom they still want to engage without sharing baby pictures.
This could extend to what virtually amounts to dual profiles, with separate status updates for personal & professional contacts, and a rich niche for developers to build apps geared towards enhancing professional connections. Facebook could smoothly handle this double stream for sophisticated power users that have both networks to maintain.
Btw I googled “LinkedIn is useless” to find this video. Facebook, if you want to pay me for this awesome idea, I’ll be glad to send you my Pay Pal info.