Archive for July, 2009

Making Social Media Roles Model Real Life

Facebook released new content sharing/filtering rules today and it got me to wondering why these social network sites make such a fundamental thing as modeling roles and relationships so difficult.

It seems in real life you have a version of (or role for) yourself that you expose to these general groups:

  • You
  • Family
  • Close friends (usually less than 10)
  • Coworkers
  • Schoolmates
  • Acquaintances (usually less than 100)
  • Special Interest/Group/Club/Hobby Members
  • General Public

So I have always been baffled why social content sites don’t use a similar model and let you simply check off which of these groups/roles you wish to publish/expose your content to. 

The Ben Franklin adage that you should “not do anything you don’t want to read about in tomorrow’s paper” is particularly apt in the social media world.  Especially given the number of stories about folks who were fired because coworkers or others saw inappropriate content intended only for close friends (advice on avoiding this here).  So for me personally, I have little interest in most social media until they can get the roles and relationships aspect right. 

To me, Flickr always seemed like the best/easiest site for doing this, but is nonetheless still somewhat restrictive because it only provides 4 role categories: private (you), friend, family, public (I think if they added a coworker category it would be a fairly complete and simple to use model).

Can I be Your Friend?

Can I be Your Friend?

One of the problems with translating this simple model into the social-media world is that 2 people don’t always have the same view of a relationship.  Unlike your own private consciousness where you can define someone’s role and meaning to you without them knowing, in the social media world, people often know the role that you have assigned them.  You might be afraid that calling someone an “Acquaintance” rather than a “Friend” might hurt their feelings.  Or over time as relationships change, a “Friend” might become an “Acquaintance” and then eventually someone you hardly know at all.  “Demoting” these people from “Friend” to “Acquaintance” might also cause hurt feelings. 

The simple solution to this problem is to simply not let people know what you think their role is; this setting should be kept private and known only to you.  One again, the real world provides a compelling solution to even this dilemma.  The real world – now there is a concept for the Facebook generation.

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