Nov 5, 2007

Facebook and the Case of the Unnatural Degree of Intimacy.

While Facebook’s stock continues to soar, I thought I’d share this (likely familiar) story of Facebook’s major problem: creating an unnatural and artificial degree of social intimacy between two people who barely know each other.

So there’s an art director I work with who asked to “friend” me on Facebook. Now I keep an account under my real name mostly for research purposes: I joined up with a friend of mine about six months ago and the only people I’ve added are those who have found me-- about three dozen altogether.

Now this art director seems like a nice enough guy, his office is not far from mine and I say hello to him in the hallway. But honestly, friends, all I know about him is his name and the state he hails from (long, not-very-interesting story). I don’t know what accounts he works on, who his friends are, where he’s worked previously: none of that.

But now, due to Facebook, which he is quite active about updating regularly, I know all sorts of things about him. That he has a new girlfriend (thus ending one mystery), where they’ve gone on their dates. What her pet name for him is. What movies he and I both like. What books we’ve both read. Which “Friends” character he is most like. His zombies and werewolves have attacked me, and he’s written somewhat amusing messages on my “FunWall.”

All fine and good, except he’s not some long-lost college roommate. He’s some guy I work with and when I see him in person, it’s extremely awkward because I now know all these somewhat intimate details about him and yet we’ve barely exchanged more than “hello.”

I mean what am I supposed to do – go up to him and say “Hey relative stranger. I saw on Facebook that you went to Lars And The Real Girl the other night. Since I also know that you and I appear to have similar taste in movies, did you like it? And what about this new girlfriend of yours—she sure looks hot in her profile pics—did she like it too? Oh, and how was her trip to Michigan to see her sister? Sounds like you really missed her.”

Creepy, right? But thanks to Facebook I can know all sorts of bizarre details about people I barely know in real life.

And that's the problem. Why would I want to put any of my business contacts on a site like that? And don't tell me that all they have to do is give you a mechanism to sort your friends into levels of intimacy. Because the second you label someone who thinks he's your good buddy a "business contact" you've got a world of hurt feelings to attend to.

Solve that, social networking site builders, and then maybe you can get a money-making model in place. But until then, you're not providing me with a whole lot of value.

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