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A Facebook for All Seasons: Skinning the Social Network

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 30, 2007

Facebook will have groups (or groupings) soon to enable you decide which group to place each friend in.  This is a useful feature lots of people are talking about because we have differing relationships with different people.  It’s been suggested that this particular feature is a real LinkedIn killer.  As I mention in a comment to Stowe Boyd:

This is such an important issue, and one not to be taken lightly. All of the efforts to manage the “Social Network” on its own and look at it as a first class citizen have to understand that this means that it has to be able to mean different things to different people in different use cases.

Part of the problem is that its just so much trouble to maintain a Social Network. No sooner do you get one pretty far along that another wants to play. It’s great to think I can just transfer the old one over, but that doesn’t work for the same reasons you need groupings not groups and a whole lot more.

If I’m doing something for business that’s one mode. If I’m doing something for family that’s another. Close friends versus casual acquaintances versus total strangers I’m trying to strike up a conversation with. All of these need to afford the Social Network owner with the capacity to govern the degree of visibility, overlap, and many other arbitrary attributes are present.

It gets even more complex when the Social Network becomes a shared responsibility. A network you’ve built on behalf of a business or other entity demands a different Trust Fabric than one you own yourself and use for social purposes.

The question is how to do this easily, so that everyone can understand, and with enough flexibility that it solves the problem.  Thinking about it again this evening, I started to wonder whether the answer wasn’t tags.  Consider having the ability to place arbitrary tags on your friends:  professional, family, boss, competitor, rival, influencer.  The choice of tags is up to you, that is the beauty of tagging.  By default, the set of relationships Facebook uses now when it asks how you know someone would each be a tag, but you can add as many additional tags as you like.

Each individual on your Social Network can receive one or more tags of your choice.  The tags “decorate” the Social Network to describe the type of relationship you have with each member.  Now here is the next interesting aspect: content on your service, whether it be Facebook or some other, also gets tagged with the same set of tags.  It is the matchup of the two, the tag of the viewer is matched to the appropriate content tag, that determines the experience a visitor receives from you.

There would of course be defaults, so that if you don’t attach a tag to your content, it just goes out to everyone.  If you’re putting something out that’s not for every audience, apply the tag for the audiences that should see it.  Presumably there is also an advantage in weighting the tags, so that if two conflict, the higher weight wins.  Now you can present a slightly different face in your Facebook depending on how you’ve tagged the individuals in your Social Network.  The tags cause you to see a different “skin” of an individual’s Facebook presence.  Their photo, which applets you see, their newsfeed, and all the rest are entirely dependant on your tagged relationship to your friends. 

What do you think?  It seems simple and pretty flexible.

3 Responses to “A Facebook for All Seasons: Skinning the Social Network”

  1. […] is the next killer feature, but I’m not sure simple groupings will be enough.  The nature of the content and interaction with those groups has to be nuanced.  This may or may not be a natural thing that people do automatically, but even if it is, the […]

  2. Steph said

    I’ve been coming up with this repeatedly over the last six months. (Ethics and Privacy in the Digital Age is a good place to start.)

    Yes, we need to be able to tag people. Those tags need to remain private. The interface for adding and managing them needs to be painless.

    I think it’s only then that we’ll get over “social network fatigue”, “friend overload”, and nasty hairy privacy issues.

  3. smoothspan said

    Thanks for visiting Stephanie!

    I think the subtlety here will be in how the tags are used to manage the outgoing content. Making that clear and easy will be essential. But the problems feels to me not that different than other tagging chores, so that’s why I’m in the camp. One tool that I think will be very helpful will be the ability to see what your content looks like from the perspective of any of your friend groups. It will make for a nice double check on things.



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