Edo the Reliable

Friends Lists Are dead, Long Live Friends Lists

In Social Networks on November 3, 2010 at 6:01 pm

“We talk about it in Facebook as the biggest problem in social networking” – that’s how Zuckerberg presented the Friends Lists issue in the Oct. 6 Facebook press conference.  Having discussed the topic in previous months, this blog was riveted to the video.

On Oct. 6 Facebook introduced 3 types of groups, and all but dumped the Friends Lists project. But have Friends Lists really failed? I’m following both Google and Facebook managers:

Paul Adams (Google):

Google’s own Paul Adams […]  shows (pic) that if asked to create lists of contacts only 3% of people create a “Friends” list, and 60% of people’s lists have unique names.
(Social Product Blog, may 2010)

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Oct. 2010:

“In reality, almost no-one wants to make lists… we’ve been at this for a few years and what we’ve found is that even when we’ve promoted this feature very heavily for a few years the most of what we’ve got is for 5% of people  to make a Lists and most of these people only make one list. You can design the best interaction in the world to make lists, no-one wants to make lists… “

Just to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, let’s compare the slides used in Adams’ and in Zuckerberg’s presentations respectively.

Adams (the right side shows what he thought Facebook lacks):

Zuckerberg (notice Adams’ “Ambassadors” not yet present in Facebook’s model):

So when your competition – the seasoned crew of Google – scores 3%, isn’t 5% a pretty decent result? This 5% could be expanded further when 200m mobile Facebook users (freshly updated today from 150m) would get access to Friends Lists. Friends Lists management isn’t yet available to Facebook mobile users, a sector Growing Faster Than On Desktops (Techcrunch).

Understandably, Facebook wants more, faster, as the growth of a single bloated friends list can kill the service. But what would be a reasonable target? How about a nice Pareto 20% as a target for users creating lists? They will probably be creating 80% of the groups. Growing 5% to 20% isn’t an unreasonable challenge for a PM in the fast-moving, vision-rich social arena.

Another open question is whether the new group types could replace Friends Lists. For Facebook, maybe, but not for users. The following chart – showing the visibility of group member lists in different groups – says the three new types won’t be able to replace Friends Lists.

The big difference between Friends Lists and other group types is this: in Friends Lists, the list creator can change the lists on the fly and quietly. Groups are a community constructs – adding someone to the group is always followed by notifying him or her.

Friends List is the only list no-one but the group creator can view. Is it not realistic to expect this need to go away and be replaced by the wonders of social media.

Zuckerberg calls this issue “vital”.  I couldn’t agree more.

  1. dana doyd worked on this problem of trying to implement multiple identities in a single social platform (a family or party-friend list is another way of expressing that you have 2 identities you are trying to manage – a family identity, and a party identity). so far, the solution has been to have multiple platforms for the different identities.

    lists might be the wrong metaphor. groups are probably what will end up as the dominant metaphor for dictating how people are, um grouped. not as sexy, but a lot less effort than everyone managing all personal lists. if there are any breakthroughs with the usability of personal lists, it will probably be from the system analyzing the clusters of the network, and determining how to make boundaries around them, to be presented as lists or some other group metaphor.

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