March 23, 2012

Don’t make me “defriend” you …


Good ran an article Wednesday about a growing trend on Facebook that suggests users are “defriending” people who are not in some way actually linked to their lives.


The trend, the article says, is due to a changing user demographic that considers online privacy important, or at least desirable. But it also reflects an inclination for quality control. Time was, building a vast network of friends — whether you actually knew them or not — allowed  users to behave with a certain kind of, um, confidence.

That behavior then influenced other users, affecting what they said and how they responded to things. Kind of like it was back in high school.

In turn, Facebook took behavior (or data, as the soulless like to say) and around it built a powerful platform that could deliver advertisements which, in theory, tied directly to users’ tastes. All in all, pots of money were made, Facebook’s popularity grew, and everyone under the sun had more advertising in their lives.


The burning question now, though, is will this “defriending” trend undermine, or at least threaten, Facebook’s business. Hmmm …

Experts say that the fewer friends a person has, the harder it is for Facebook to interpret the world the subscriber comes from. In turn, the less information Facebook has, the less they can charge for advertisements on the subscriber’s page. Facebook declined to comment on how changes in user behavior could affect their business … The unfriending phenomenon suggests many users view Facebook as a utility, a place to network or post a photo gallery, instead of a hangout spot.

How Facebook makes its money, and whether the company adapts to a changing marketplace, may not be of premium interest to literary types, but the trend itself is noteworthy because it shows how behavior online is changing, which, literary type or not, says something about everyone. Take Amanda, for example:

Amanda Borland, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, sits at her computer scrolling through a list of names. Suddenly she stops and clicks on a picture. “That is a random person I have never talked to,” she says. In an instant, Borland “unfriends” another Facebook contact. Borland originally added these people while running for student government in high school; now she sees no reason to keep them as friends.

“For me, it is weird to reach out to someone who is technically linked to me personally, when I literally have no idea who they are,” Borland says.

The idea of “cleaning out” Facebook friends is getting more popular: The percentage of people unfriending other Facebook members rose from 56 percent in 2009 to 63 percent in 2011.  In gross terms, 158 million people were unfriended in 2009, and more than a half a billion in 2011. Experts predict the trend will only increase in coming years, and they see it as a potential problem for Facebook’s business model, which relies on leveraging information gained from a user’s profile and personal networks.

I’m willing to accept this riveting account, even though it is unclear who the “experts” are.

In any event, at Melville House Facebook is a fun and active way for us to get as many people excited about our books as possible. If a new trend suggests that soon we’ll be surrounded by less people, but ones who are truly interested, like our books and want to share them with the people they care about, well hey, that sounds a bit different than high school.

Actually, it sounds pretty good.

Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.