This is part 3 in my series on Facebook and avoiding pitfalls. Here’s part 1.
Too many friends
Psychology professor and self-help pioneer Jess Lair used to ask people if they had five friends. If they said no, he said to go make some–with fewer than five, you wear your friends out. If they said they had a lot more than five, he said no they don’t–they have a lot of acquaintances. People don’t have enough time and energy to maintain more than about five deep friendships.
I think about that when I see people who have hundreds of Facebook friends. One Facebook meme I’ve seen is people posting a status update that just says, “Tell me how I know you?”
By hiding game/app updates, you can make it a lot easier to keep up with larger numbers of people. Hiding friends who post excessively helps as well.
But the odd thing is, even though I’ve done these things, there are still friends I’ve never seen a status update from. They appear to be active. Many of them have hundreds or thousands of friends. Whether they’re using filters and I’m just not in any group that gets their updates, or whether Facebook just isn’t designed to handle hundreds of relationships, I don’t know.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to keep in touch with large numbers of people, but don’t let the “friends” misnomer get in the way of the relationships that are most important to you.
The power of lists to filter updates and avoid conflict
Sometimes you may post something that you suspect will rile certain friends up. Hopefully it will be a small number of them. Before posting, click on the lock icon, and there’s an option there labeled hide. Start typing the names of friends you don’t want to see the post, then select them. This will keep them from seeing the post, and hopefully prevent you from inadvertently starting a world war.
A former Mizzou classmate clued me in to an even better tip: Some people go so far as to create lists and hide certain updates from those lists. Click on Friends, then click Edit Friends, then click Create List. Name the list by topic, add friends you don’t want to send updates on that topic, then click Create List. Now, when you go to post a status update, when you click on the lock, you can type the name of that list into the hide option.
You can also use lists to avoid sending irrelevant updates to all 999 of your closest friends. You can create lists of family, coworkers, former coworkers, former classmates, and any other list that’s useful to you. Then, if you want to send an update just to your family, type your update, click the lock, select customize, select specific people, and then type the name of the group. Now you can send a message to your whole family and not worry about bothering other people who won’t care or understand the message.
And then you can use those lists to see updates just from those specific groups, so if you ever wonder what your old coworkers from Initech are up to, you can find out really quickly. Just click on Friends, then click that list, and you’ll see all the recent updates from the people on that list.
Despite the pitfalls, there’s enough upside to make it worthwhile. I’ve questioned it a couple of times, but never for more than a few days.
It is an effective way to keep in touch. One blatant example: Last summer, we had a project at work that required several teams to travel. Those of us who had Facebook accounts knew how the remote teams were doing. Those who didn’t knew very little. It was a lot easier to sign in to Facebook at the end of the day than it was to use our convoluted e-mail system from the road.
I also find it easier to deal with than e-mail. I used to get more e-mail per day than I could possibly read or respond to in 24 hours. With Facebook, people’s expectations are more reasonable. I have a much better handle on what’s going on in people’s lives by spending a few minutes on Facebook than I did plowing through hundreds of e-mail messages.
I’m a whole lot more connected now than I was in 2007. I can trade family pictures and talk effortlessly with my first cousin in Philadelphia, whom I haven’t seen in person in 22 years. I can do the same with my first cousin in Germany, whom I’ve never met at all. I’ve even used it to try to chase down job leads for friends who weren’t on Facebook yet. There’s nothing at all wrong with any of that.