Facebook needs Circles

By | August 2, 2010

I don’t use Facebook all that much.  I know it’s super popular, and I maintain it at the bare minimum level, but I can’t really get into it.  Recently I watched an online presentation from a UX guy at Google about Social Networking.  One major point really resonated with me: The complete lack of segmentation in Facebook.

I have high school “friends”, family “friends”, and professional “friends”.  (All of those quotes are air quotes by the way)  Whenever someone I know friends me, I accept because I think it’s impolite to do otherwise.  However, I really wish I had circles where I could segment them out.  I don’t need to see a feed of all of them at once.  On the contrary, it’s quite confusing.

Additionally, I would think there could be some permissions and separation between these circles of friends.  I don’t quite understand why they built the system without this in the first place, but they did.  Now, I imagine it’s difficult because of the 100 bazillion installed user base.  Still, this seems like a key enhancement.

I would suggest hard-coding a few of the circles.  (Family, High School, College, Professional) There is alot of benefit to Facebook to do this.  They would get a much stronger semantic in the social graph.  They would be able to tell if people were more influenced by family or friends in purchasing.

Facebook is incredibly popular, but that doesn’t make it perfect.  It’s always important to be critical of the tools and services we use.

6 thoughts on “Facebook needs Circles

  1. Ben Nadel

    I agree with this completely. I don’t know how it might be best implemented, but I find myself doing the same thing on Twitter using TweetDeck, on a small scale. I’ll Follow anyone on Twitter who follows me (with the exception of Spam accounts); but, I try to create some meaningful “Columns” in the TweetDeck app (ex. ColdFusion People, jQuery People).

    The hardest part becomes graduating people from my “Everyone” stream to my more narrow streams over time. I tend to just ignore my Everyone stream.

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  2. Donald Ball

    It would seem they didn’t, and are unlikely to, build in this feature because Zuckerberg is morally opposed to people presenting different identities to different groups of people. It’s a nice-sounding ideal, as far as it goes, I suppose, but it clearly marks Zuckerberg as an person of privilege. He’s obviously never been put into a situation where he had to keep an aspect of himself private: the gay college student who’d be disowned by his family if he were to come out, the trans lady who’d be fired by her law firm if discovered, etc.

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  3. Ben Nadel

    @Donald,

    I look at this more from a “consumption” standpoint than a “presentation” one. My first instinct, when I read this, was not about presenting different versions of myself to different groups; rather, I thought the power was in being able to shift mindsets with each group. The mindset I have when I talk to fitness people is different than the mindset I have when I talk to computer programmers. It just frames the consumption of information in a way that I think would be more effective.

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  4. Glen Lipka Post author

    Interesting thinking about this from both sides of the coin. I think both are perfectly valid. Zuckerberg should consider it an ASSET to allow circles. He would get a much richer social graph. I am appealing to his capitalism. 🙂

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  5. Kaj Kandler

    It’s a multi dimensional world and simpel segments won’t do it justice. For example I have close friends from each of the segments and I have accquantainces from each. So some messages are for all in the segment and some ar only for close friends. On top of that I have local things to share and things that are only interesting for people in different regions or towns (where I used to live or for peopel that at some pint in time lived there too). And further complicating is that these associations do change over time. The guy who is my colleague today might be a distant friend tomorrow and also a running buddy that I meet at road races. The gals that was a neighbor 10 years ago might be a partner for online chess games still, while having moved away five years ago.

    To capture those cross sections I’d like to have a tagging system where I tag the people with the group attributes (over time) and also the posts and then see a list of my “friends” that would still receive the message as a (default) feed from me.

    But then, most people are too lazy to segment or tag their friends, let alone each post. So while it would be the perfect model it will die of innertia and overload most users with options.

    I think the only feasible solution is to “rate limit” some of the noisy friends, so you hear only from them at the rate of your consumption (tolerance). May be give posts that seem to spark responses from others a higher weight to pass your rate filter.

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  6. Ben Nadel

    @Kaj,

    I think it’s part laziness, part overwhelming. On Twitter, I would love to segment more; but 90% of the time, I dont actually know the people who start “following” me at first. As such, it would be a system that would necessarily have to change over time as I got to know people.

    Of course, the underlying problem to this all is that we all Friend and Follow so many people that the great majority of it just becomes noise. Even people that I might like to segment out simply get lost such that I cannot see the trends.

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