Thursday, September 23, 2010

Facebook "Following" Twitter?

Last week without much hoopla Facebook quietly changed their friend accept user experience. Inside Facebook caught this change and reported, but by in large this remained most of our radar. There were other juicier topics to chew on, such as Facebook phone and Oracle Open World 2010.

Note 'Not Now' Replacing 'Ignore'
The change is rather subtle. Facebook is now rolling out a new option to put friend requests in limbo. It used to be that users were presented with two options, either 'confirm' or 'ignore'. Now 'ignore' became 'not now'. This doesn't seem like a big deal. Innocent button label change, right?

Well, you could brush it off if you look at just this label change. But there is a larger design intent hidden behind this label change. TechCrunch noticed this change and ran a story a few days ago, that is by changing the label from 'ignore' to 'not now', Facebook is now creating a category of friend requests that are hidden. The difference is that asking users to make the decision each time user visits pending friend requests page, or putting those unclear requests in one bundle and hiding them so that it doesn't ask user to make the decision each time.

I'm sure everyone had the experience of getting friend request from someone who you might call passing acquaintance, or someone you don't even know. Often it's not clear whether to send rejection, which is what 'ignore' does, or accept. And let's admit it. It's far easier to procrastinate the decision than make one on the spot.

Hang on, but that doesn't sound right. Facebook being so considerate that they would change their label to accommodate our indecisiveness? I think not, either. Facebook is in the business of making connections. They want people to be connected. More users are connected on Facebook, greater the power Facebook has because Facebook knows more about how to push data in our "socially connected network".

Scavenger Hunt: Can You Find Unfriend Link?
Answer: Red Marks The Link.
The reason Facebook changed the label from 'ignore' to 'not now' is simple. Facebook is banking on the fact that people will connect more with 'not now'. Note that 'ignore' is replaced with 'not now'. With new user experience, user has to explicitly choose to 'delete this request' and/or report the request as spam. Chances are good percentage of iffy friend requests will now stay in permanent limbo, which means those people who send the request will be able to subscribe to your activity feed while their requests are in limbo.

Now, it starts to make sense. Notice how easy it is to add friends. It's plastered all over Facebook UI from the moment you sign on. Facebook even suggests friends that you ought to make, allocating valuable ad space. Did you try figure out how to unfriend to downsize your circle? Not so easy. You have to visit your friend's page and look for dinky little text link at the lower left.

Ok, but how does 'not now' make Facebook following Twitter? Simple. Twitter is all about following and being followed. It's not about friends, it's about fame and connectedness. It's very subtle wordplay, but they mean different things in our real lives. By creating this friend request limbo, Facebook is slowly moving to Twitter-like model, where people will be able to view the person's feed in their home page by sending friend request to the person.

So there you have it. Facebook is "following" Twitter. Now what would be Twitter's response? Well, it's been a definite 'not now' so far.

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