On Facebook’s dishonest social graph

A friend of mine mailed in to express her happiness that a recent photo she posted of herself got a gazillion likes. I think Facebook likes are somewhat like the page view counters of yore. They are fun and ego-boosting but entirely pointless in the long run.

One of Facebook’s goals is to be a reasonably accurate reflection of your real life social connections. This goal actually suffers because of the ease with which people can connect on Facebook. In real life, connecting with someone takes effort. You have to travel, you have to make small talk, at the very least you have to pick up your phone and dial a number. You know who is an important part of your life because they come through this filter – they make an effort to be in touch with you. On Facebook, because the amount of effort required to connect with someone is minimal, even people who don’t much care about you and the events in your life end up watching and reacting to your updates.

Think of it this way. You are getting married and you have sent out invitation cards to all your friends. Those who turn up made a conscious choice to do so. They took the time out, they booked tickets, they put other appointments on hold, and they undertook a journey to reach the place you are getting married. It took some real effort on their part and that tells you that they attach importance to the relationship they have with you.

If anyone could attend your wedding with the click of their mouse, the element of effort goes out of the picture and there is no way to establish which relationships are important and which are not. Heck! Most people, if they could indeed attend your wedding that easily, would attend your wedding. Who would want to miss out on all the free food at the end of the “like” button?

Of course, I am talking strictly data here. It is entirely possible that because of Facebook’s ease of use, you might end up connecting with people who might otherwise have remained distant and unfamiliar. But as far as Facebook being representative of your real world social graph is concerned, the current model just doesn’t work. Part of the reason behind Facebook’s early success was the element of exclusivity (with its user base being limited to members of particular institutions). Now it is going in the exact opposite direction.