Facebook, Friendship, and the Social Graph

According to Cory Doctorow, Facebook is no paragon of virtue, but there’s no need to worry about it achieving critical mass and threatening the web itself as a platform. His reasoning is based on a central component of Facebook, and of every other social network: the friends list.

It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

That reminded me of the problem statement in Brad Fitz’s Thoughts on the Social Graph.

What I mean by “social graph” is a the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related… Unfortunately, there doesn’t exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that’s comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

If you want to be able to reboot in the way that Cory describes, this is less of a problem than a blessing, less a bug than a feature, providing as it does a set of refuges from friendship requests. While those working on the social graph problem will see the need for such refuges, and will define the tools to build them, I’m not sure that J. Random Networker wants to learn how to wield such tools.

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