Is Facebook getting too big to succeed?

Facebook has been the flagship example of social networking for the last couple of years, based on the large number of people using it. Rather than simply being the domain of tech geeks and social media junkies who will, let’s be honest, use any social site, it has been adopted by Myspace dropouts. These people don’t use their computers for anything but the occasional Mapquest check, or some e-mail.

It’s so popular, you can bet if you have an account you are going to be friended by your friends, as well as your parents, your bosses, people you do business with… at which point, the fun of it drops away.

In an article in Newsweek this week, this problem is referred to as “content collapse,” perhaps the best description of the problem.

“That’s the term used to describe a series of awkward events like when your boss or parents friend you, or someone posts a picture of you that you don’t want your colleagues seeing, or when an elementary school bully from your past starts commenting on your status updates. As these activities cascade, social media research has shown that people begin to shy away from their on line persona and begin aggressively limiting the information that appears about themselves.”

People who crow about how users need to be more “open” in social networking, and need to share their real selves, will feel the bite of doing so and leave. Flame wars, or bosses finding pictures of drunken parties, or opinions that are contrary to what your company’s official position is, are easy examples of things that will drive people away.

Since so many people in one’s life are on Facebook, it becomes very hard to cover yourself so you can enjoy yourself AND keep out of trouble with the people you need to.

Personally, I used to keep two lists of friends on Facebook: “Real Friends” and “Not Real Friends.” The former was for people I am friends with off line, the latter for bosses, clients, business contacts, or just people I don’t normally socialize with. When I told people this, I received a lot of flack for not “getting it,” that social networking was about opening up one’s self completely. Obviously I disagree with this, and anyone who has been burned on line for being themselves would agree.

This trend is also what threatens Facebook. With so many people using it, the average user has some 120 friends on average. That’s a l0t of people to have to worry about tagging you in an inappropriate photo, or calling you a “n00b.” My solution was to unfriend those people who were in the “Not Real Friends” list, and keep them as contacts on Linkedin – a more appropriate network for people I work or do business with. This isn’t the same as abandoning Facebook – which I really can’t do, given the business I’m in – but many are walking away from the network, as they see the problems inherent in having information about them instantly available to everyone they know.

Do you think Facebook users should be able to create an “inner circle” and an “outer circle” of friends? Or do you think everything there should be open, and users take their chances?

Facebook grew largely through the drop in popularity of Myspace, which used to be the most enormous thing on line. We’re only a short time from the next big thing, which is probably already in existence and ready to steal away Facebook’s traffic. If Facebook doesn’t think hard on how to keep the people it now has, it’s going to end up being the next failed thing.

One comment

  1. What’s really interesting is that for all the people who use Facebook, everyone complains about the interface, or the way their information is sold, or the lameness of the people on there. I guess you only see that when you get really popular.

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