The Illusory Holy Grail of Online Social Networking

A few days back, I wrote about using a process for cleaning up my Facebook relationships. After this clean up process, my Facebook feed is now so much more relevant, and thus meaningful. If you think this is an isolated incident in my case, it is not, read this for example.

As social networks like Facebook try to increase the density of their social graph, they risk crossing the boundaries of irrelevance. Social graphs have an innate limit offline; attempts to expand it online beyond certain human interest levels will irretrievably deteriorate the online experience. I believe that is what is happening in the case of Facebook.

Facebook promotes itself as the platform to connect with everything and anybody you know, anything you liked in the past, anyone you just met, something you liked in your teenage years, folks you knew in your school years, passions you developed as part of growing up, all of your ex-colleagues from all of the different jobs in your career, music, movies, and books which not only you like, but everyone you are connected to you as “Friends” like, not only what all of your relatives like but their friends too, which of your friends are where at this moment in time, what someone is listening to, what someone is reading and so on and so forth.

In short, Facebook promotes itself as a platform to get “connected” to everything that has ever been or is at present, not only a part of your life but also what is a part of all of your “Friends” (while the concept of  “Friends” is extended to not only past long ago friends, colleagues who were never friends, friends of friends, etc.).

The end result is a cacophony of infinite proportions, more harsh than the dissonance in Stravinsky’s  The Rite of the Spring. In its quest to become an inseparable part of your existence, Facebook risks becoming like the air we breathe – everything to everyone, yet not a single memorable thing to anyone. In my case, what it led to is a complete disillusionment.

What are the best means for such social networks to regain a high engagement level? That is the holy grail of online networking – a harmonious marriage of social (personal + professional) and interest graphs. We do not even know whether this holy grail exists, or can ever exist, as one and only one network – it may very well exist as a multiplicity of networks.

LinkedIn knows it has captured the core of the professional network and we observe it remains within its focus area, unlike Facebook that seems to spread like a weed. Facebook’s ambitions, without focus, loom toward irrelevance and are a danger to itself.

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