Scoble Loses Interest in Facebook – 5,000 “Friends” Will Do That

In social networks, bigger is not necessarily better. Robert Scoble, famously with 5,000 Facebook friends, recently posted this on Twitter.

Spent some time cleaning off my Facebook Profile. Stripped it way down. Much nicer now, no crap. I haven’t been into FB for months. Sigh.

Normally this may not rate as important news. In fact, Scoble had a Feb. 22, 2008 post up on his blog titled Is Facebook Doomed? But there, his issue is primarily one of limits on the number of friends and messages. He still liked Facebook fundamentally.

But then came his recent tweet. While many technorati are expressing their ennui with Facebook, with Scoble it’s significant for two reasons:

  1. He’s the living embodiment of Web 2.0 openness and try-it-all, push-it-to-the-max gusto
  2. He’s argued passionately that 5,000 friends is just fine for Facebook

Let’s start with the idea that 5,000 “friends” is appropriate for a social network. It can be…but not for Facebook.

Facebook Is for Social Interactions, Not One-Way Communications

Let’s imagine having 5,000 friends on Facebook. What must that be like?

Newsfeeds. That newsfeed must be constantly in overdrive. People’s statuses updating. New groups they joined. Apps added. New friend connections. Friends compared. Blah, blah, blah…! A 5,000-friend newsfeed must be like a stock ticker. Hit refresh every second and a new set of newsfeeds displays.

Inbox. When you have 5,000 friends, your Inbox and Notifications are probably largely untouched. How do you go through the sheer volume of messages? Inbox from hell is what that is.

App invites. How many times has Scoble been invited to try every inane app out there? Especially since its Scoble. Get him to try your app and mention it on his blog or Twitter, and you’re on your way. Not enough hours in the week to try all the new apps.

Reaching out to friends. How do you figure out which of your 5,000 friends you interact with each day? Assume Scoble attempts a meaningful exchange with 13 friends each day, on top of all his other duties. That translates to contact with each friend once per year.

Here’s what Scoble said in his blog post defending his decision to have 5,000 friends:

In social networking software a “friend” is someone you want in your social network. Period. Nothing more. The fact that people assume that you should only have “real friends” in your social network is just plain wrong.

See, I have this theory about social networks: different ones are good for different types of social interactions. What Scoble is looking for is something different than Facebook. His interactions have more of a one-way quality to them. He’s really good with discovering and analyzing new things, and is eager to share them with the world. And that’s really cool. But he really doesn’t want to know that you just joined the Austin networking group, posted your child’s picture or that you’re working on that report for your boss. Nothing wrong with that – I don’t either. But I didn’t add you as one of my 5,000 friends.

Different Social Applications for Different Purposes

I believe Facebook is fundamentally tuned to be an interactive lifestream social network. That means it wants to be the place where all parts of your life are captured and shared. It’s built around that goal. Which makes it terrible as a large-scale broadcasting platform.

So it’s no surprise that Scoble has tired of Facebook. I assume he’s still getting to broadcast his life to the 5,000 friends. I’ll bet a lot of those updates occur as apps connected to his various preferred social apps: Twitter, Jaiku, Flickr, etc. For him, Facebook is more of a broadcasting server, not a place for true social interaction.

For Scoble’s social networking style, he’s already got what he needs: his blog. He talks about what interests him. He responds only to comments that interest him. To complete his lifestream, more widgets for his favorite social apps could be added.

FriendFeed is emerging as an app to satisfy the social network needs of power users like Scoble. Unlimited (well, theoretically) numbers of people can subscribe to his feed: blog posts, Facebook status updates, Twitter posts, Flickr photos, etc. Anyone can comment on his lifestream. But he doesn’t need to subscribe to these same people. No app spam, inbox overload, etc. However, I notice he already has 1,700 “friends” there.

I suspect Scoble will probably find a better home for his mode of social networking on FriendFeed. And Facebook is just fine for what it wants to be: lifestream platform for interacting with your actual friends.

Scoble Is Great for Analysis

This post is not meant as a criticism of Scoble. Quite the opposite. He pushes the boundaries of all these social apps, and does so in a very public way. He’ll give you his take on his own actions. But by pushing things to the extreme, he also provides a great lens for analyzing Web 2.0. That guy’s got a cool life.


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

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