Day 69 – Social Circles

by Dan


The great thing about holidays is that you get lots of thinking time, especially when you maintain a routine of being up a couple of hours before everyone else and indulging in some reflective pursuits!

One evening last week we watched the movie “The Social Network” which is a dramatised but (mostly) factual account of the origins of Facebook. After watching, I let my mind play around with it for a couple of days. Particularly I was interested in comparing the intended purpose of the site with how I use it, and comparing the virtual world with the real one.

So what is Facebook for? It is a tool to enable you to socialise with your friends and acquaintances online, in real time, across the entire globe. It prevents space and time barriers from interrupting your social circles, and to subscribe to news and information that is relevant to you. It works the same as socialising in the real world, but without the real world limitations. This is how it can get out of control – you can be up to date with the comings and goings of people you would normally rarely see (in some cases never) and people that you hardly know at all. For the Nosey Parkers amongst us that’s wonderful news, but for the majority of us that can lead to a place where Facebook is overwhelming and more of a burden than an enabler. This also applies to other Social Networking tools like Twitter, LinkedIn etc etc…

The other problem is that a lot of content from people is them participating in their other social circles, which have nothing to do with you. Imagine sitting in a bar and listening to every conversation at every table at the same time – what a nightmare! (Nosey Parkers are probably thigh-rubbingly excited by now!)

While I have been on holiday, I’ve been lucky in that I have been able to connect to some form of data signal on most days and keep up with my social networks. On slow connections that does take some time however, and this painfully reveals the content within those updates that really isn’t useful to you. The problem is that within the noise there is content that you really wouldn’t want to miss – e.g. stuff going on with your close friends or family that you derive great value from being up to date with. So whilst I toyed with the idea of ignoring it all completely for a fortnight, I knew that this would only lead to a monster session upon my return home, trying to catch up.

In order to work out a different way to skin the proverbial cat, I thought about it in terms of real world interactions, and categorised my social circles as follows:

1. Close Friends and Family. People really important to me, and people who I really want to be on the pulse with all of the time.
2. Friends I see regularly and enjoy socialising with. These people I can catch up with when I see them, but as we are together regularly this isn’t a problem. These are people I would enjoy sitting in a bar with and enjoying random social banter, just enjoying each others company.
3. Friends I see infrequently. I’m interested to hear about the big news in their lives, but nothing else on their agenda couldn’t wait for if and when I see them next and we have a catchup.
4. Acquaintances I don’t know very well but due to their wisdom, wit, or content I want to stay connected to.
5. People who fail the Zero-Based Thinking question of “Knowing what I now know, would I have become aquatinted with them in the first place?”

Now, what becomes clear is that there is a distinct hierarchy of importance to the online content of those different groups. But what do I have? I have a Facebook news feed that gives an even priority to each of them, and the airtime each gets is dictated by them not me. This, I have realised, has been my problem with Facebook and my solution so far has been to make a very binary decision as to whether someone is a Facebook-friend or not, when in fact there is a huge grey category of connections who you want to keep, but don’t consider to be a priority – just as it is in the physical world.

Fortunately Facebook has some settings that can help. As shown in the image above you can adjust the subscription setting for each acquaintance to give some friends priority over others. For each you can choose whether to receive “all updates”, “most updates” or “only important updates”. For each of my categories above I reckon they should be assigned as follows:

1. All Updates
2. Most Updates
3. Only important updates
4. This could be any of the three depending on how much value they create, and sometimes how much content they push at you
5. None of the above – the “unfriend” setting is required for these, or if that is going to potentially cause a physical-world problem them the “hide all updates” can be used.

Today, I went through every update that appeared in my news feed this morning and assigned one of the above. We’ll see if that has the desired effect and if so I’ll roll it across all of my network. Additionally if this dramatically reduces my news feed, then it may be possible to ignore it all whilst on holiday and have a much easier job of catching up with the important stuff on my return. I will of course keep you posted!