Filtering and Politeness

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…

13 Responses to “Filtering and Politeness”

  1. Alexx Kay Says:

    I have three main filters on LJ: Default, Demi-Friends, and Extra Time. The names are pretty descriptive, though I am not firm about distinctions. The first, I try and read every day, and often read several times a day. The second, I read during slower periods of my life, and drop during busy ones. When slow periods happen, I sometimes go back a week or two on this filter, and actually stay ‘caught up’, albeit at a delay. The third is for hypothetically interesting stuff that I rarely actually have time for, but want to keep track of in case I have a day that seems to be all about web-browsing.

  2. Justin Says:

    It’s pretty similar for me — I have my everyday filter, the “optional” filter and the “fun” filter. In practice, I rarely get to the latter two: it’s hard enough for me to keep up even with the everyday one…

  3. Lyle Says:

    Until you mentioned it, I had completely forgotten that LJ had added filtering for the Friends page. That’s always been my main problem with “friends” in LJ — not having the time to read everyone’s posts.

    Other social networks? I simply do not have the time to deal with them at this point.

  4. metahacker Says:

    I resisted having a ‘read’ filter for many, many years on LJ; but now I have a ‘default’ reading filter, which excludes people for two main reasons: verbosity, or idiocy. There are certain folks who just post too often for me to read them regularly, especially now that I primarily read on the iPhone. They would push out my other friends.

    And then there are people who I occasionally enjoy reading, and who I enjoy the comments of, but who routinely post idiotic, banal, inciteful, or hurtful things. I don’t want to read everything they write all the time. So I stick them in a separate filter, and read them purposefully when I have the mental energy to pre-filter what they write.

    On Facebook, I depend heavily on the “show more or less about this person” options. I have one relative who Facebooks ALL THE TIME, comments on every post anyone makes anywhere, and generally spams the universe. I have my options set not to show very much of what zhe posts…

    Lack of such features keeps me from using Twitter. So I’d say it’s important.

  5. Monica Says:

    I have several reading filters, but they mostly come into play if I’ve been away from the net or am in a crunch. On a typical day the posts of everyone on my list roll past my eyeballs.

    That is not to say that I read everything. Certain topics aren’t interesting to me — but filters can’t really help me with that, as it’s topics more than posters. And if I’m busy, even posts on interesting topics might just get skimmed. I routinely have 50+ browser tabs of posts I want to get back to, either to read more carefully or to comment. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Because dropping people causes drama I’ve become more cautious about adding people. For people who’ve added me but where I haven’t reciprocated, I’ll read the journals directly when I have time, and over time might decide to add them.

  6. metahacker Says:

    (wtf? Why does wordpress keep logging me out?)

    I’m surprised to hear about how much drama there is regarding dropping friends. I haven’t run into any such in recent years; people seem to understand there is a natural ebb and flow of relations. Or maybe it’s just my circle.

    Of course, Facebook lets you drop people ‘silently’, so you don’t get the same flurry of comments you get when, say, you change your relationship status.

  7. Justin Says:

    (Wrapping up a bunch of comments-to-comments.)

    “Until you mentioned it, I had completely forgotten that LJ had added filtering for the Friends page. That’s always been my main problem with “friends” in LJ — not having the time to read everyone’s posts.”

    Oh, absolutely. I strongly commend the view-filtering functions: they’re not quite trivial to use, but they make it much easier to keep up with LJ.

    “Lack of such features keeps me from using Twitter. So I’d say it’s important.”

    Yaas. I do use Twitter (somewhat lackadaisically), but I only follow a very small number of people for this reason. And I’ve found that I had to unfollow some folks who I consider friends but not *close* friends, because they were collectively taking up too much of my attention.

    “I routinely have 50+ browser tabs of posts I want to get back to, either to read more carefully or to comment.”

    Wow — you’ve got an even bigger backlog than me. I’m impressed.

    But yeah, this is a common syndrome. One of the features on the drawing board for CommYou is “Later”: the ability to explicitly tell the system that you are interested in this topic, but to shove it down the priority list until you’ve dealt with other things first. Exact details will be worked out once I have the UI in a state that I broadly like.

    “I’m surprised to hear about how much drama there is regarding dropping friends. I haven’t run into any such in recent years; people seem to understand there is a natural ebb and flow of relations. Or maybe it’s just my circle.”

    Your environment, anyway. You hang out with a fairly sophisticated group of LJ users, most of whom have many years of dealing with online community under their belt and who have to wrestle with the same issues themselves.

    And to be fair, I doubt that *most* people get nuts about unfriending. But it doesn’t take very many to make me cautious about it…

  8. Redshift Says:

    On LJ, I have the same “people I don’t want to know I’ve ‘unfriended’ them but who I’m not reading.” (I only have one ‘friend’ who might freak out, but I have a bunch of others I like to keep track of even though I don’t read them regularly.) I also have a separate group for convention LJ groups so I can skim more easily. Several of my friends have multiple custom topic groups which they’ll assign you to if you ask. The purpose of these is so people don’t have to read posts that are about subjects they don’t care about or are uncomfortable with.

    I haven’t bothered to filter or friends-lock anything outgoing, because I don’t post that much and I’m not into talking about intensely personal stuff online, but I’ve recently hit a new filtering problem. We haven’t generally sent our Christmas letter to my parents because they’re local, but we gave them a copy this year, and accidentally gave them the friends version, which has our LJs, instead of the family version, which doesn’t. Now my dad wants it electronically so he can send it to all the relatives. Even though I don’t post private stuff, I don’t really want to be considering what my relatives will think before going on a political rant or something. It’s kind of weird to have things I don’t mind perfect strangers reading, but don’t want certain people I know to read. I’m uncertain of the proper filtering solution for this.

    (My friend Pyracantha had the same problem. She actually shut down her blog because her parents found out about it, and she didn’t want to deal with their reactions to it. But because she wanted to write for the public, friends-locking wouldn’t serve her purposes (and she wasn’t on LJ.)

    This also ties in with anonymity — we’d previously talked about anonymous writers in conversations, but these are both problems that relate to anonymous readers. It’s possible an adequate solution to both would be to allow reading by anyone who is logged in, but not by people who aren’t. I don’t know if LJ allows that.

  9. metahacker Says:

    Maybe it’s just that I’ve *already* unfriended all the drama-causing entities? ;)

  10. Justin Says:

    It’s kind of weird to have things I don’t mind perfect strangers reading, but don’t want certain people I know to read. I’m uncertain of the proper filtering solution for this.

    Actually, it’s not entirely rare — I have several friends in similar situations for one reason or another.

    In general, this seems to be what carefully-managed pseudonymity is for: folks in this situation generally maintain identities that are very carefully scrubbed of identifying information, and try to avoid people associating that identity with their real-world one in any public fashion. But they let their friends in on it, very quietly, with orders to keep it quiet.

    It seems pretty difficult to do well — it requires a great deal of discipline (as you accidentally found out here). But some do seem to largely succeed.

    It’s possible an adequate solution to both would be to allow reading by anyone who is logged in, but not by people who aren’t. I don’t know if LJ allows that.

    For reading? I don’t think it does, I’m afraid. (Although I believe it does so for writing.) That’s an interesting use case that I’ll have to keep in mind for CommYou…

  11. Redshift Says:

    For reading? I don’t think it does, I’m afraid. (Although I believe it does so for writing.) That’s an interesting use case that I’ll have to keep in mind for CommYou…

    I’m still turning over in my mind whether it’s a useful case or not. It seems somewhat useful, somewhat like disallowing anonymous comments/replies — you can only read this if you have an identity. But other than your pseudonymous solution, there’s no real answer to the “public to strangers” requirement, because presumably part what you want with being “public” is for it to be findable via search engines, and there’s never going to be a robots.txt entry that says “index this for everyone but my parents.” :-)

  12. Alexx Kay Says:

    Apropos the last few comments, I have an LJ filter I use on rare occasions for my writing labeled “NotDad”.

    In theory, I wouldn’t mind if strangers saw those posts, but I don’t see any practical way to segregate things that way.

  13. Monica Says:

    It’s possible an adequate solution to both would be to allow reading by anyone who is logged in, but not by people who aren’t. I don’t know if LJ allows that.

    This doesn’t solve the family problem; it just adds a small hurdle. Fine, dad says, I have to create an account first… The only way I can think of to make such a scheme work is to allow people to filter based on the (required-to-be-valid) email addresses associated with accounts, since account names don’t necessarily tell you anything. And that’s not a full solution but just a bigger hurdle — fine, dad says, I’ll go create another Hotmail account…

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