Thursday, September 07, 2006

Facebook Newsfeed

The new facebook newsfeed feature is apparently pretty controversial. It's even spawned an enormous anti-newsfeed facebook group and a Newsweek commentary. I'm with the author of the Newsweek commentary, I think it is pretty cool.

I like it for several reasons. First, it lowers the cost of obtaining information about what's going on in one's social network. Information about others is an important input into the social process. People with good information are highly valued in social markets (i.e., demand for them is high) because other people are interested in obtaining this information. More information also increases our value in social markets by encouraging us to be better friends. It increases our propensity to reach out to others in by lowering the cost of making contact (hey, I saw you did X ... that's cool), and it increases the efficiency of phone and face-to-face contact by replacing alot of the, "soooo, what have you been up to" awkwardness with more interesting conversation.

Second, newsfeed raises the cost of creating new facebook ties. As is, the social network side of social networking websites is a bit of joke. The friendship ties it documents are pretty week. However, if everything you do on your facebook profile is broadcast to all of your "friends", I imagine this might encourage greater reluctance to accept or make friend requests. Instead, people are now encouraged to limit their networks to the people they want to keep informed about and who they want to keep informed -- i.e., individuals' friendship networks might now more closely reflect their actual social networks.

Finally, as Andrew Romano points out in his Newsweek column, perhaps this will prompt people to be less neurotic about their profiles:
How necessary is it, I thought, to obsessively recalibrate my roster of favorite movies and music? Not very. In fact, it's kind of immature. Weaned on a sugary self-esteem diet, we've grown into a vain generation with an insatiable appetite for self-expression -- and plenty of places (Facebook, MySpace, blogs, AIM, etc.) to express ourselves. But it's important to realize that People Are Watching (luckily, Facebook is limited to friends; other online outlets aren't nearly as private). That's what social networking is all about. My new rule of thumb: don't do stuff online that you don't want your friends to know about. If you're embarrassed when a particular update appears on News Feed, it was probably gratuitous to begin with.
So I think newsfeed is good. I agree with my former student who emailed me on Monday when she discovered the changes, it will be cool to see how this feature affects people's behavior. At the vary least, I really want to know how this affects people's propensity to "make new friends" and how it affects people's propensity to change their profiles. So hopefully someone will do the research to provide me with these answers.

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