Relationships and social networks

I find the intersection of technology and human interaction fascinating. Specifically, I am interested in how technology can be used to mimic and augment existing human interactions. I’ve written a bit about Snapchat and how temporary social media is brilliant at mimicking real life experiences. Similarly, the telephone, Skype, and Facetime all use technology to mimic/enable real life conversations.

One area technology hasn’t mimicked well is the formation of human relationships.

What happens when we meet a stranger in real life? We look at them. We observe their dress and body language. We make some small talk to break the ice, and collection enough information to create a first impression. As time goes by, we dig deeper into the relationship, delving into our personal history, our values, our hopes and dreams. We share our lives. And in doing so, we build rapport and trust.

What is the online equivalent? There really isn’t any.

We connect on Facebook and instantly access a stranger’s timeline and photo albums. We look at a person’s Twitter or Pinterest and can instantly view all of their public interests and tweets. There is nothing realistic about this. We don’t gradually get to know someone. Instead, we instantly have access to someone’s information.

This instant access may be OK is some situations, but can be harmful in other situations such as in dating. In real life, after a first date, I only know a little about my date. However, if we connect on Facebook, I can see all of my dates photos, timeline shares, and ex-relationships. IMHO, it breaks the dating process, and doesn’t allow me to slowly learn about a date. That is why the last time I was single, I consciously did not connect with any of my dates on Facebook.

There has to be something better here. Is there some way to create an user experience where people gradually get to know one another? I don’t know exactly what it would look like, but would be glad to see something like this exist.

P.S. This is post number #90 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.

Blurred lines: The problem with Facebook’s social sharing model

Sorry, the picture has nothing to do with online social sharing, but it is entertaining, no?

OK, onto business 🙂

I’m starting to come to the conclusion that with web/mobile products, it is best to have a  simple social sharing model.

Here are the three possibilities that I know of:

  • Private: Email is a great example here. So is SMS, chat, and Facebook Messenger. With private conversations, shared data stays within the few people who are in on the conversation. This isn’t always the case. People can forward email to whoever they would like, but the general expectation is that of privacy.
  • Group privacy: Here, privacy is expected within a group of people. This group may grow or shrink, but at any time, whoever is in a group can see everything shared to the group. This is how Facebook started. Each person and their group of friends was a group. Any posts to a person’s wall was visible by that group. Google circles work in a somewhat similar way where people create explicit groups that bound the limits of sharing.
  • Public: With public sharing, there is no expectation of privacy. Twitter and Pinterest are great examples here. When I share, I expect the data to be in the public domain. There may be followers, but they don’t change my expectations for privacy.

Private and public are the simplest because they require no work. Group privacy is a bit more work because you need to create your groups. But all three of these have something in common. They are pretty simple and clear. You don’t need to think very hard to understand who gets to see what.

As I mentioned above: Facebook’s sharing model started out simple. You only had friends and then a wall. Anyone you connected with as a friend could see your wall, and when you posted on someone’s wall, you were sharing something with them that because visible to their network of friends.

Over the course of years, the social sharing lines began to blur on Facebook.

It began when they started lifting posts off of the wall. They implemented wall-to-wall, which allows you to see conversations with people. Then they added in the feed of recent wall posts. There was nothing wrong with these changes. As far as I could tell, they were just helping me access data that I should have had access to. It was purely convenience.

Once the feed became standard, we gradually began to forget that the posts were limited to a person’s wall (and their social circle). Instead of viewing walls, we learned to interact with Facebook by processing a stream of information.

The Like button is when things began to get fuzzy for me. Once you liked something, it would be shared with your friends. It was as if you could take any of your friend’s data, and they share it with your own social circle. This begged the question: where does it stop? If a post is liked by everyone, do you have any expectation of privacy?

As Facebook grew, people began to like more and more. They also began to like artists, bands, movie stars, businesses, etc. Each of the posts they liked by one of my friends ended up on my news feed. On top of that, they began to serve ads into the news feed.

The news feed eventually became an uncontrollable firehose of information.

To throttle the news feed, Facebook got intelligent with each share and each like. Now, they look at all kinds of information for each post such as who shared it, whether you view their posts, whether you’ve liked their posts, etc. Now, for your convenience, they work to surface the posts that are most relevant to you. The byproduct here is that each of your shares and likes are actually only shown to a small fraction of you friends.

Do you see the problem here?

Now, when I share a post, only a fraction of my friends will see it. If a friend happens to like my share, their friends will see it. And if their friend’s friends like it, it propagates to other random people.

The lines for social sharing are completely blurred now. I can’t guarantee that my friends see my shares, and I can’t guarantee that random strangers won’t see my shares.

There is nothing simple or clear about Facebook anymore.

Perhaps there is more to it. To be honest, I haven’t gone through all of the constantly changing permissions. There may be settings that I don’t know about. But, I am pretty tech-saavy compared to the average American. So if I am confused, I’m fairly sure a lot of others are also.

As far as I can tell, Facebook is a special case on the web. Most products have one of the three social sharing models I listed above. Facebook started with one of them also, and over time, they switched things up on us. I wonder how things would have worked out if they started out by blurring the lines of social sharing. Has there ever been a (reasonably successful) startup that began with blurred lines? I can’t think of one.

How do you feel about it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Personally, I’ve found myself gravitating towards the two ends of the spectrum. I either use apps like email/messaging where I expect privacy, or apps like Twitter when I expect zero privacy.

P.S. This is post number #56 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.