Archive for January, 2009

Filtering and Politeness

January 20, 2009

Another interesting conversation from Siderea got me thinking about the concept of “friending”, what it means and is going to mean, and the fact that filtering — currently a relatively exotic concept — is going to become crucial in the years to come.

One of Siderea’s points (more in the comments than the main post) is that, in this new social-networked world, the default is probably going to be making yourself “available” via social networks.  That is, a “normal” person will be expected to be on one or more of these networks, and moreover the social norm will be to accept friend invitations from — well, practically anybody you know in real life.  Not accepting such an invitation will be considered a bit rude.

On the one hand, I definitely see where she’s coming from: I can see this particular trend of ubiquitous friending starting up already.  It’s common to friend people you haven’t seen in twenty years, and with whom you share little in common.  And I think she’s right that, for many people, refusing a friend invitation is perceived as a deliberate rebuff.  Certainly we’ve all seen the occasional drama that ensues when someone is unfriended.

That said, I can’t imagine that this is going to continue without changes.  It just plain doesn’t work.  The reality is that, while I may not want to offend these people by refusing the invitation, I really don’t care about them very much.  I don’t mind them being around in some loose sense and paying attention to me, but I’m not going to spend attention on them and I’m not going to share my most intimate thoughts with them.

So it seems like a middle ground is needed, and that middle ground is probably filtering: putting your “friends” into different buckets.  For the LiveJournal users in the crowd, this is totally unsurprising — LJ has supported filtering for years, both in the form of custom friend groups and simply in the asymmetrical nature of the thing.  (That is, the first level of filtering is, “Sure, you can read me but I’m not going to bother reading you.”  This is quite different from Facebook, where friending is always symmetrical.)

In practice, I already do filtering via custom friend groups.  In particular, I almost never unfriend someone, due to the drama potential.  But I only have time to really follow about half of my friends on a regular basis.  So I have a filter — a custom friend group — that I actually read all the time.  When I decide I don’t care quite as much about someone, they get transferred out of this filter.  They are never slapped in the face with it, so it allows me to preserve the social niceties, but it allows me to focus my precious time and attention on the people who matter most to me.

Other services are starting to catch on, but it’s slow.  Facebook now has a concept of custom friend lists, but it’s new and support is still spotty.  Twitter lacks any such concept, but it’s notable that some of the new Twitter clients have as a major selling point the ability to layer a weak form of filtering on top of it.  I suspect that, in the long run, all social networking tools are going to have to provide filters, often rather strong filters, in order to be usable in a world where people gradually wind up with a thousand people on their “friends” list.

How much filtering do you currently do?  Do you treat your friends list as really just friends, or do you let mere acquaintances on?  Do you really read everyone you friend?  Do you manage your services differently?  (Certainly I treat LiveJournal and Facebook very differently, since I’ve found them to have different social conventions.)  Where do you see this as all going?  We’re in the middle of some big changes in how we manage our social environment, and it’s fascinating to speculate about where that’ll end up…

Cities in the Net

January 14, 2009

Some of my readers already follow Siderea’s blog, but if you don’t, I commend her recent posting, Cities in the Net, and the ensuing discussion.  It considers social networks from an architectural perspective — a very practical way to think about online community and how it relates to real-world ones…