[Editor's Note: Today's blog post is by guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. She has studied what makes some individuals embrace or avoid information technology. (She’s definitely one of the former.) Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Today, Michelle tackles the practice by Facebook to selectively display your friends' status messages.]
On Facebook (FB), I have 150 friends (like Dunbar, I think more than that is just not manageable, maybe even absurd). That’s above FB’s quoted avg of 130 friends, (likely higher now since I quoted that same stat last December, and anecdotally but obviously, that number differs by age). I embraced some of the early FB tools, like Groups, to manage multiple and disparate friend networks. But Facebook’s tools aren’t cutting it for me. I’m not happy.
FB is a creature by, of and for digital natives – like some huge shark, it’s always moving, changing. As a result, FB can be disorienting, even alienating, for those of us who don’t “live” there, and only occasionally visit. (Who knew one day my tech geek disdain for AOL’s simplicity would become an elder n00b nostalgia for consistency and predictability?...) I feel frustrated at not seeing more from some of my friends, particularly those who, like me, are busy enough that the quick and easy broadcast of an interest or whim is attractive. I believe such friends also tend to visit, rather than inhabit, Facebook. FB (understandably so) caters to its residents far more than its tourists, so I hear a lot from a few, and nothing from many.
With more and more social network choices* available to me, I decided to run an experiment or two. I knew a little about Edge Rank, FB’s way of privileging photos and links over text updates to maximize time on site, so I used a photo for my first test. I asked people to like the post if they saw it. Over three weeks, just 23 of my 150 friends liked, messaged or commented on a beautiful picture of bananas foster. Maybe it’s just the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the outcomes are provided by 20% of the users; 20% of 150 is 30, not too far from my unscientifically identified 23.
I might have stopped there were it not for the unfortunate death of a friend. Within an hour of his death, I posted a status update saying goodbye, sharing it only with the 14 people sub-group on FB who knew him. No one commented, messaged or in any way acknowledged the post. I saw these same people IRL three days later – no one mentioned having seen it. What happened? Was it just a glitch, and somehow the post was never seen? I might once have thought so, but I no longer trusted Facebook. The silence after my friend’s death struck me viscerally, not just intellectually.
I’m enough of a scientist to ask a lot of questions. Was it age? Bananas Foster responders ranged from 15 to 64. Could it be access? If only 15% of my friends responded, maybe 85% aren’t logging on? Not likely, based on Pew Internet Life studies. Two thirds of adult Americans use some social network site; and 96% of them use FB. Of those who are FB users, 83% log on at least once a week; 52% log on daily (FB agrees), and 31% several times a day. And while we’re not Australia or Israel, Americans spend about 6 hours per month logged in. Parse that another way: the average online FB session in the US is 23 minutes and 20 seconds. Surely that’s enough time for a friend to see my post and respond…
Almost exactly a year ago, I warned my FB friends that if they wanted to stay in touch with someone, they shouldn’t rely on FB to do it for them. Satisfaction is the difference between expectations and outcomes; maybe I just want too much from Facebook Nation. I am conducting one more test, posing a question to a specific sub-group of 35 FB friends. My question – can you hear me? And if not, should I follow 6 million other Americans, and leave FB behind?
(*What are those choices, you ask? Google+ or another competitor? And what of FB? Take down everything? Abandon the site, leaving a profile pic with forwarding information? Use HootSuite or TweetDeck to mechanically update my status every other week with “I’m not really here?” Another post, for another day, Gentle Reader. What would you suggest?)
© 2011. R. Michelle Green. Reprinted with permission.