Design Flaws in Facebook, Jaiku & Twitter

    June 19, 2007

Oh, how I hate when social networking software tries to be my parent.

Jon Udell touches on this in his post about Facebook
: “how do I know this person?”

See, the developers who make this software really want to make it hard for you to add more friends. And what the hell is up with calling everyone a “friend” anyway.

Let’s say I want to add Fred Wilson to my social networking software. He’s NOT my “friend.” At least not how normal people define friends. He’s never been over to my house. We’ve never had a beer or coffee together. In fact I am not sure that I’ve ever met Brad face-to-face. Yet I know quite a bit about Fred from his blog. I know more about Fred than most of my neighbors. Which, admittedly, is weird. But back to the point.

I, like Jon, hate that I have to enter in Facebook how I know Fred. I don’t remember how I met Fred. It was a link from some blogger. I don’t remember who. So, I just put down “met randomly.”

How I met someone is really not the important thing, anyway. It’s what COULD Fred do for me in the future? He’s a VC. So, if my son ever starts a company (I’m too old, remember) then I might want to drop Fred a line and hook them up. But Facebook doesn’t ask me that. It just wants to know how I know Fred. I want to tell Facebook “I don’t really know Fred, but I want to.” It’s enough to make you scream if you really look at this rationally.

While I’m complaining about Facebook let me complain about Facebook’s mobile app. It’s quite sweet, actually, but only when you’re signed on. Now, unlike every other app that’s on my phone it automatically signs you off after a few hours and forces you to sign back in. What’s the problem with that? Well, the mobile app doesn’t save my password so I have to refill in my password. I hate keying passwords on my mobile phone. Dave Winer says that Facebook hasn’t been designed with adults in mind. That certainly is true. How many adults do you know who have learned to type on a phone keyboard (ie, not a Blackberry style thumb keyboard but the regular old style of 1-9, etc.) It’s a major pain in the behind.

Oh, and let’s not just pick on Facebook, shall we?

Jaiku is going to be the hot thing this week. They are shipping a new version and are throwing a big party tomorrow night and all that. I’m sure by Wednesday you’ll see Jaiku on TechMeme.

But, let’s say you add me to your contact list on Jaiku. It sends me an email. I know, for instance, that Leo Laporte has friended me there. But, now, can I see everyone who has added me to their contact list? No. Can I add everyone who has added me to my contact list? No. At least not that I’ve been able to figure out. It’s like they are saying to me “Scoble’s not wanted here because he adds “non friends” to his contact list.” Damn it, stop trying to be my freaking parent. If I want to add 1,000 people into my friends list, please let me! But no these social networks have to control my behavior.

And forget trying to import all your friends from some other social network. No, no, can’t do that! Gotta make it difficult for you to add contacts/friends or whatever you call these.

Twitter doesn’t escape here. With Twitter you have a binary choice. Are you a friend or not? Well, I have different types of friends. Don’t you? There’s my “beer buddies.” “School buddies.” “Business associates.” “People I want to meet for coffee.” “People I’ve had coffee with.” “People I’ve been to an Amsterdam coffee shop with.” Etc. etc. But, no, I can’t tell Twitter anything other than you’re my friend or not. And, since I add everyone who has marked me as a friend in Twitter as a friend too I can’t really block anyone.

So, what do I want? I want a social network that just lets me add contacts. Lets me add them for any reason. Lets me add them wholesale from other social networks. Lets me import them from Outlook. Or Facebook. Or LinkedIn. Or Twitter. Or Jaiku. Or Orkut. Or Gmail. Or wherever. And then lets me manage them on a granular level. Why can’t I add tags to each contact? Tags I pick. Not that are forced on me by some 22-year-old developer who has no idea about what a 42-year-old’s social network looks like.

Let me define different behaviors for each tag. “LOVER” tag might go into one page with a password, for instance, that isn’t publicly available. That way Maryam and I could use a social network to send sweet nothings back and forth (I can’t use any of these networks for THAT kind of social networking). “BUSINESS ASSOCIATE” could have a form that includes why I care about that person, business wise. So I could put Fred Wilson there, add that he’s a VC, add his blog, add his Twitter account, etc.

Anyway, I want to spend more time thinking this through, but I gotta go add a bunch of new Facebook contacts to my profile. Sigh.

Or am I just nuts and these social networks are all properly designed? What do you think?

UPDATE: Dave Winer wants to reboot the social network.