Five ways Facebook can win the War of Relevance

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I currently have over four thousand people sitting in what I call “Facebook Purgatory,” because I’ve reached the cap of 5,000 friends on Facebook. Over four thousand people! Four thousand potential brand ambassadors, four thousand people who want to add me to their network. Four thousand people with whom I can potentially work, four thousand people who may become IRL friends, or contacts, or clients, who may, after looking at my profile, and seeing previous speaking engagements, ask me to speak at an event they’re producing.

Four thousand people (and rising) with whom, at this point, I’ll never connect.

And don’t tell me about the Fan Page. I already have one. It has over 2,000 fans. All of whom I’ve had to direct there, after they email me and ask why I haven’t approved their friend request.

This isn’t social networking, it’s social suicide. Right now, four thousand people think I don’t care about them. They think “well, how much of a social networker can Peter be if he doesn’t even bother to approve my friend request?” They don’t care that Facebook won’t let me. In their eyes, I’m the bad person.

And I don’t blame them for thinking that way. When a small part made by XYZ corp breaks inside your car, you don’t find out who made it and blame XYZ corp. You complain that your Honda stopped running. Same thing here. “Peter Shankman obviously doesn’t care about his reputation, he won’t take the time to approve a friend request. Well, screw him.”

Thanks, Facebook.

So here are my top five ways I believe Facebook can be improved to actually create a worthwhile social networking experience – i.e., where we’re going as a society anyway.

1) Lose the friend cap. I’ve heard three reasons why you won’t do this. a) Scalable base infrastructure – You don’t haz it. b) You want people to migrate to the friend page, since you can build more advertiser buy-in that way c) you don’t want to become MySpaced, where people have a billion friends that don’t matter. I understand reasons two and three. I believe one of the reasons MySpace failed (other than relying on photos of skanks as a core business model) was that people over-friended, becoming friends with millions of people that simply didn’t matter. RELEVANCE. It’s important. We’ve learned that now. As we move towards a one-profile society anyway, everyone we meet will go into our network. It has to happen that way, and it’s simply a matter of time. You want social media to really be relevant? Everyone has to be a part of the network, from our boss to our plumber. How we choose to interact with them will be up to us, and we’ll adapt our profile to fit the masses – i.e., kiss the bong photos goodbye, unless you’re the editor of High Times. Which brings us to

2) My mother is not my girlfriend, who’s not my accountant, who’s not my best friend from junior high school. Right now, Facebook assigns absolutely no relevance to anyone in your network. My mom has the same relevance as the colleague I met last month at a bar, or the guy I sat next to on the plane in June. This is pointless, and quite frankly, only makes Facebook’s 5,000 person cap understandable. For Facebook to truly win the social media war, they need to make sure their members are relevant to each other. They made a valiant attempt to do this with Beacon, sadly, they called it an advertising and marketing effort, rather than a relevance attempt. If I buy movie tickets, Facebook should offer me the option to say who I’m going with. When I type in someone’s name from my network, that person gains a little more relevance to me, and I gain a little more to them. Up and down, like little bubbles of oil in a social media lava lamp. The more I interact with someone – say, via text message, IM, email, Skype, Facebook wall, etc… Facebook will assign that much more relevance. I stop communicating with someone? I break up with my girlfriend? We stop talking? Facebook notices, and your relevance drops in my world, and mine in yours. This is probably the most important addition Facebook could possibly make. Make my network based on relevance, and I’d never, ever leave the site.

3) The Fan Pages don’t work in their current form. Search on my name. Go ahead. I’ll wait. What’s the first thing that comes up? My profile. Second thing? My fan page. (Let’s not even DISCUSS how pompous it is that I actually have to have a fan page in the first place.) What are you going to click on first? You’re going to attempt to connect with me, on my personal page – Why wouldn’t you? Facebook continues to invite you, despite the fact that it won’t let me add anyone else. That goes back to point one. By allowing people to request my friendship when you know it won’t be approved only creates tension and friction with these people. Why not simply default to the fan page? Which makes for a perfect tie-in to point four:

4) Why don’t the fan pages work anywhere NEAR as well as a profile page? Let’s look at basic logic. If I upload a bunch of photos to my personal page, as I did this weekend, shouldn’t I be allowed to tie the same folder into my fan page with one click? Instead, I’m forced to upload the same photos to the fan page. Additionally, when I upload photos on my personal profile, it adds it into the news feed. Not so with the fan pages. Facebook, you’re making it pointless to even USE the fan page. No one really cares about it, and it’s not helpful in its current form, nor does it allow me to truly communicate with my fans. We live and die on status updates on Facebook. Why can’t I do something as simple as post a status update on my fan page? The fan pages are not interactive. They’re one way communication. That’s not social media, that’s simply broadcast.

5) We’ll all be on the grid eventually. For Facebook to truly be relevant, it needs to realize that not every member is the same, and that some will want different things. I personally don’t believe there is any privacy anymore, so I’m happy to put my life “on the network,” as it were. Some other people won’t be as much. So give us options. Let us choose how much we want to share, but give us the option to share it all, or to share none of it. As we all go “on the grid,” and build one profile that encapsulates our life, (as opposed to “one for business, one for personal, one for everything else,”) people will realize that not sharing is worse than sharing, since if they don’t share, they won’t be as “connected” to everyone else. Once that happens, they’ll realize the benefit of being “on the grid.” But that will only happen when Facebook starts thinking like a true social network, and less like a website.

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