Molly Schoemann (and no, I have no idea who she is, but that’s the internet!) has posted a funny and cogent take on the downside of Facebook. The site has swollen to well over 100 million accounts and consequently the number of “friends” one can accumulate is becoming problematic.
As a high school teacher (who has to be careful not to post anything on Facebook or this website that he doesn’t mind a complete stranger seeing), I have already accumulated over 400 Facebook Friends (FF). The vast majority of them are former students, mostly from the past few years, whom I know only from the context of my classroom. Most of the rest of my FF are merely acquaintances, and my closest friends don’t even use the service…at least not yet.
I should note that I do like, very much, how the service lets me easily and casually reconnect with former students and various acquaintances when they wish to communicate with me. When a someone pings me, it is great that I can quickly find out if they are still in school/which school/what major, what sort of work they do, whether they are married, etc. So I do NOT want to lose any FF or limit the growth of my friends lists. But I dearly wish the service made better and easier use of those friends lists.
Those lists have let me categorize my FF as students, coworkers, etc. but Facebook needs to make it easy to set my News Feed to default to a selected list. At least for now I have to click on several settings to filter the feed each time I visit the site. I also would like a simpler yet subtler interface to tailor what can be viewed on my own account for different friend lists. The current privacy settings are too blunt, awkward, and limiting.
Some of my former students who are exploring the ups and downs of college life are already complaining about how their parents or their friends’ parents want to be their FF and how that alters the dynamics of the site. And lord knows they presumably would rather not have their old physics teacher scanning their walls or scrutinizing their photos, yet many don’t appear to be implementing privacy filters based on friend lists. I suspect Facebook could go the way of MySpace and lose some of its core audience to a rival service if it doesn’t implement a better system for filtering different types of friends and allowing one to easily present different personas to different audiences.
UPDATE: 3 months later, Facebook implemented a new home page that allowed users to change the default page to the newsfeed from a specific group of friends. Problem solved!