2×2: Filtering your Facebook friends

How do you decide to view or relate to different friends on Facebook? As with all things in life, this can be described by a 2×2 matrix:

Love this person Not so much
Entertaining Facebooker Add to my “A1 pals” list, which is the news feed I look at most of the time Leave on generic Friends list
Boring or annoying Facebooker Hide from newsfeed:

  • Hover over a newsfeed item, to the right of the person’s name
  • A down-pointing arrow will appear; click it & choose “Hide…”
  • The story will be hidden, and you’ll see the option “Change what updates you get from John” (hey Facebook, that should be which updates)
  • Check or uncheck items based on how much of this person’s news you want to see:

checkmarks indicate which updates will be seen

Put on restricted list

The pajama test: An open letter to my Facebook “friends”

A year ago today, this blog post was the turning point in my relationship with Facebook. In my life affair for Twitter I’d pretty much lost sight of how Facebook could possibly be relevant to me. Then I made the decision that Facebook would be my personal space — the space where I connected with true friends, instead of just focusing on building connections — and settled back into a groove that has made Facebook part of my near-daily life again. I’m not on it constantly the way I am with Twitter, but it’s where I go to share news about my kids, post something that is too quirky and unprofessional to tweet, or to see the latest from my pals.

Recently my approach has gone through yet another metamorphosis after a conversation I had with Rochelle Grayson. Like me, Rochelle posts on Facebook as if it were her personal space, but unlike me she doesn’t limit her friends to only people she knows really well. She’s just made the decision that if someone is going to be her Facebook friend, they’re going to see the personal as well as professional Rochelle, and if that’s not of interest they should ignore her updates.

I like this philosophy because I think it puts the onus on the reader rather than the poster to decide how much information is TMI. The challenge is to post as authentically in that broader space as you would if you were posting to your 4 closest friends. But thanks to multiple friends lists you can choose the circle with whom you want to share any given update or image.

In fact, I think it’s time for me to create a new friend list. I’m going to call it “Pajama Test”.

Dear Facebook “friend”,

You may have noticed that you’re hearing from me less, and when you do, it’s mostly about my husband or my shoes or how I feel when someone eats the last brownie. Maybe you’re happy that your news feed isn’t full of my Twitter updates anymore (I got rid of my Twitter-to-Facebook hookup) or maybe you’re unhappy that I never write on your wall. Maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t accept your friend request, or maybe you’re wondering why you’re not in my friend list when you used to be.

Here’s the truth: we’re not actually friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, or think you’re smart, or want to work with you. I’ve turned down friend requests from some of my favourite colleagues, and from people I respect a lot. In fact I would love to hear from you on Twitter (I’m @awsamuel), and if you’re missing all those great social media links and tidbits, you’ll still find them on my Twitter feed.

But Facebook isn’t Twitter. And for most of the past two years — the time in which I’ve been really active on Twitter — that’s felt like a bad thing. Twitter is more open, more flexible, and more useful as a source of professional learning and conversation. I can tweet something and store it to delicious at the same time, I can use Skitch to capture a screenshot and share it instantly on Twitter; I can even use Twitter to log my hours in Harvest, our time tracking system.

In fact, I use Twitter so much that it now feels like the most awesome, raging party you’ve ever been to: a packed room full of fascinating colleagues and friends where conversation is flying along a mile a minute. I love parties like that, and I’m not above saying they can also be very useful professionally: I’ve begun more than one great collaboration over a few beers.

And yet a giant rager is not my favorite place to spend time with friends. At the end of the day (or night) I want to go somewhere quiet and unwind, take off my party shoes and have a postgame chat with one of my closest pals. Hell, I want get into my jammies and settle in for a good long juicy talk.

I’m now focusing my Facebook time on the friends who pass the pajama test: is this someone I know well enough to chat with once I’m in my jammies? These are the people who actually do care about what I’m eating for breakfast (something I hate reading about on Twitter); these are the people I love so much that yes, I do want to hear about the funny thing their cat just did.

This is the point where you pop over to my Facebook page and wonder how the hell I could feel comfortable enough to wear my PJs in front of 718 people (my current number of friends). The truth is, I don’t. And that’s exactly why I’ve changed the way I use Facebook by:

  1. Creating a WTF list on Facebook for the people who friend me, but who I can’t place…but know I know somehow
  2. Ignoring friend requests from anyone who is totally new and unfamiliar, especially after I discovered that my habit of accepting random friend requests was filling my news feed with updates from some pretty undesirable “friends”
  3. Getting disciplined about clicking “hide” whenever I see news in my feed from someone I don’t really really really care about, and hiding that person from my news feed
  4. Refusing all group invitations on Facebook
  5. Killing the Twitter-to-Facebook import that used to cross-post all my status updates
  6. Setting my Facebook privacy settings so my posts are only visible to people on my Friends list, and not to my networks or friends-of-friends
  7. Setting up a “Kid Sharing Friends” list on Facebook for the even smaller number of people who I feel comfortable sharing kid photos with, and limiting the visibility of my Facebook photos to that list
  8. Gradually paring back my Facebook list to the people who pass my pajama test.

All of these practices make me a lot less visible on Facebook. And I’ll admit, that’s a little scary for a social media junkie like me: it feels like so much of social media is about waving your arms as wildly as possible and shouting “look at me! look at me!!”

But I’ve decided that Facebook is the one part of the social media empire where I’m going to stop waving. Because as much as Facebook’s “walled garden” approach (which makes Facebook relatively invisible outside the garden walls) is what drove me towards focusing on Twitter, the walled garden has its charms, too.

There are times when it’s nice to settle into a shady corner and talk about stuff that has nothing to do with work (bearing in mind that someone can still peek over the walls and tell the world exactly what you’re saying).  There are times when I want to pay attention to the people I know from school, instead of the people I know from work. There are times when it’s I just want to catch up with my BFF — even if there are lots of other people, like you, who I also really enjoy!

And yes, there are times when I just want to put on my PJs.

Originally published June 9, 2010.

Singing goodbye to a Facebook “friend”

This week I participated in a fireside chat with Rochelle Grayson for Canadian Women in Communications, on The Pros and Cons of Social Media Marketing. It was the scrappiest conversation I’ve ever had from a (notional) podium, probably because Rochelle and I know and respect each other enough to feel comfortable mixing it up — a great recipe that I’ll look for in the future.

But one place where we agreed was on how we use Facebook: both of us try to keep our Facebook presences as our personal spaces online. Angela Crocker, the author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Social Network, said that she does the same thing.

That’s why I wrote an open letter last year to my Facebook “friends”, explaining that I was going to subject my Facebook network to the Pajama Test:  if I don’t know you so well that I’d feel comfortable hanging out with you in my PJs, you don’t get to read all my Facebook content.

But enforcing the Pajama Test is not just about how I handle privacy settings, new friend requests or other rules of netiquette. In some cases, it requires a little retrospective triage.

Today’s Internet tune speaks to this particular modern dilemma: (I unfriended you on) facebook, by Par Trick.

A practice to make your online friendships more meaningful

I wonder if technology and social media has compressed our relationships into a process that we can barely recognize?

That question is at the heart of Rhett Smith’s thoughtful blog post, Technology: Connected, Yet Lonelier Than Ever. He argues that by making it so easy to create nominal connections, technology can actually make it harder to create meaningful connections, because the process of developing relationship is in large part what creates relationship. (In this respect his post reminds me of Todd Essig on the value of saying good-bye).

Much to his credit, Smith’s post includes a recommended practice for how to avoid this thinning of relationship:

One of the ways that I have tried to work against this paradox is to try and make in person contact with the people that I communicate with online. Connecting in person with those I communicate with online helps me value the relational process and the friendship itself, and can help prevent me from compressing it into an “easy” or “like” button. It keeps me grounded.

I’d love to see Rhett Smith sit down with Diana Adams to talk about the relative merits of on- and offline relationship. Smith’s post makes me uneasy with its implicit deprecation of online connection relative to face-to-face interaction…which is why I’d like to see him take on Adams’ argument about recognizing online friendships as “real”.

But my own experience is that face-to-face time can make online friendships richer, even if 95% of your interactions are online. Smith’s practice is a great way to have the best of both worlds.

Your social media friends are your real friends

Diana Adams is one of a growing number of social media junkies who have experimented with taking some time off from the web. She describes “hitting a wall” with her social media use and online relationships, and taking 8 days off from the net so that she could put things in perspective.

What’s refreshing about the resulting blog post, 6 Ways To Overcome Social Media Burnout, is that she’s not preaching withdrawal from the web. Rather, she outlines some useful practices — like keeping in touch with phone friends, and making sure not to eat at your computer — that can keep social media use from becoming compulsive and dysfunctional.

But what I really love is her 6th point: “Your Social Media Friends are Real Friends, Really!” As she writes:

You will read that when you are feeling burned out; you should start to focus on your “real life.” I hear that all the time. It’s such segregation really. There seems to be this theory of real life vs. social media life.

Just like at other times in our history we have had issues with segregation, I think this is a backwards and messed up way to view things which only contributes to the problem because it encourages a feeling of “us” and “them” instead of “togetherness.”

Our online friends are just that, online. However, that does not mean they are second-class friends that are irrelevant in our “real life.” This attitude, to me, just shows that social media is still in the infant stages.

There are real people behind those avatars (most of them anyway), and the relationships you build are real. Social media, in whatever form it continues to evolve into, is an extension of our “real life,” not a separate entity. My social media friends are not the red headed stepchildren of my life, which is how most articles on this topic will spin it.

My Twitter friends are especially very close to me, and I love them very much. Knowing that these relationships are real, and you can treat them as such, will bring a lot of happiness to your life which will help you overcome this burnout syndrome.

Like Diana, I am tired of the false dichotomy between online life and “real” life, and between online friends and “real” friends. Social media pals, it’s time for us to stand up for our own reality! Just because it’s on screen doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The virtues of losing touch

Google Buzz got slammed for prepopulating its users’ friends lists based on their most frequent email correspondents. Facebook has taken heat for privacy settings that default to a high level of sharing. So what’s the big deal about sharing stuff with people you know already? RL Shrag has a fantastic analogy that makes the whole point incredibly clear.

Letting Yahoo or Facebook or Twitter create our list of “Friends” is not unlike removing the front door to your home; you don’t invite people, any wandering soul can just stroll in. As I said before, the friends of our childhood were determined by where our parents chose to live.  But, we’re the adults now, right? We should get to choose.

Read the rest of her thoughts on social network lists that auto-populate in A Whole New Bucket: Maybe There is a Reason We Lost Touch.

The meaning of friendship, on- and offline

Facebook Add Friend popup

This weekend was the first time I found myself on the receiving end of Facebook’s new and  more nuanced privacy settings. An old friend popped up in the Facebook sidebar, which rotates an assortment of different people in your friend list. On a whim, I clicked her picture, so I could catch up on her latest news.

Instead I found myself staring at a virtually blank screen showing only her minimal info: clearly, she’d put me on a list of friends who would only have access to her limited profile. I’d been demoted from friend to “friend”™.

This reminded me of an assignment I’d received in my ninth-grade Latin class, when I had to translate the following story:

A son brags to his father about all the friends he has, only to meet with skepticism. “You call these people are your friends,” the father says. “Let’s see if you’re right. Slaughter a goat, and put it in a sack. Then go to the house of one of your friends. Tell him you have killed a man, and you need his help disposing of the body.”

The son does as his father says, and arrives at the house of his first friend. He presents his bloody sack, and asks his friend to help him dispose of the (supposedly human) remains. The friend is horrified and sends him away.

The son repeats the scene at the home of his next friend, who also refuses to help. The son visits friend after friend, but none are willing to help him conceal his crime.

Finally he returns to his father, defeated, and explains that all of his friends have turned him away.

“I have only one friend,” the father says. “Go to his house, and explain that you are my son. Show him the sack, and ask if he will help you.”

Once again, the son does as his father says. This time, the father’s friend – a true friend – immediately offers his assistance in burying the evidence of the son’s supposed crime.

I can’t remember the Latin translation, but the lesson stuck with me: there’s a big difference between “friends” and friends.

You can take a few lessons from this story yourself: the futility of making your kids take Latin. The importance of actually looking inside any blood-covered sack before disposing of it.  The opportunity for a hit Facebook application called “Goat Bag”.

I won’t define friendship as the willingness to conspire in covering up a homicide, but there is undoubtedly a difference between friendship as it was classically understood and the click-here-to-accept notion of friendship that has become commonplace online.

Simply using the word “friend” to describe a network-to-network connection effectively cheapens the notion of friendship. And if you’ve heard those implicit air quotes in the way people sometimes use the word friend to describe a social network connection, you know how quickly the currency of friendship is getting devalued.

There’s a simple solution — one you see on a variety of networks. Instead of using the term friend — a term that should have real meaning and value — networks can use words like buddy, connection, or contact.

Meanwhile, it’s up to us users to remember what real friendship involves: Genuine conversation (not mutual monitoring of status updates). Trust (not just putting someone on a “trusted contacts” list). Providing support (and not just of the tech variety).

We all know what the word friend can mean — and what it means to have real friends in our lives. Let’s not get confused by the online appropriation of the word “friend” to describe whoever happens to be at the other end of a T1 line.

Remembering Michael Griesdorf

A lonely mother gazing out of the window
Staring at a son that she just can’t touch
If at any time he’s in a jam she’ll be by his side
But he doesn’t realize he hurts her so much

“This is a great song,” Michael said, turning up the radio. It was the fall of 1995, and Waterfalls had been in the top 40 rotation for a few months. I’d somehow missed it, but when Michael cranked the volume I fell into its rhythm. We drove through the Boston suburbs, back from a foray to furnish our new grad school apartments, swaying to the beat.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to

“Hey, do you know where we are?”

Michael confessed that he was as lost as I was: I’d made the mistake of thinking that just because I knew where I was, and knew where I was going, I’d be able to get there. It would take me months to accept that in Boston’s criss-cross of cowpaths-turned-roadways, I always needed to plan my route in advance.

I rolled down the window at a stoplight and asked the guy in the next car if he could tell us how to get back to Cambridge. “Follow me,” he suggested.

Ever the trusting Canadians, we gamely fell in behind his white hatchback. We followed him on a mystifying path for about fifteen minutes, until I suddenly recognized the intersection: we were just across the river from Harvard square.

Hatchback leaned out his window. “Do you know where you are now?” I nodded, and thanked him. The light turned green, and I started to move into the intersection.

“You know, that guy drove out of his way to get us here.” Michael pointed to the rearview mirror. “Look, he’s turning around.”

Sure enough, our rescuer was pulling a U-turn: wherever he was headed, it wasn’t toward Cambridge. We’d been the beneficiaries of an anonymous, selfless good work, and I had been completely oblivious to this affirmation of human kindness.

Michael noticed — just as he noticed the song on the radio, the exceptionally lovely New England home we passed, the best sofa in the furniture store, and the hottest girl among our fellow shoppers. What he noticed, he shared.

Michael Griesdorf died this week from a seizure, at age 39. He was alone in his New York apartment, an apartment full of lovely objects that he curated with the care you associate with a gallery or museum. From his vintage Mac classic to his handmade shoes to his lively and eclectic group of friends, Michael noticed, collected and appreciated what was interesting and beautiful, and created the space to appreciate that beauty.

I was lucky enough to become part of that collection. At first, it was accidental: as the two incoming Canadians in Harvard’s Political Science Ph.D. program, we paired off to survive our stats class and the isolation of life off-campus. But we soon discovered we had more in common than our shared hometown (Toronto). As students returning to school after time out in the real world, we embraced grad school not only as a process of intellectual discovery but also as a time to have some fun. We searched out the best bars, the best gyms, the best novels. We went to parties every weekend, worked out every day, watched Melrose or ER with a group of friends every week.

But Michael was much more than a good-time guy. When my heart was broken by the end of a long-term relationship, Michael helped nurse me through it, just as I’d seen him through a similar breakup the year before. When I decided to work on an Internet-related dissertation, Michael encouraged me to challenge departmental skepticism, and through his own research into the role of the internet in international relations, became a crucial sounding-board. And when I questioned my desire for an academic career, Michael urged me to pursue my writing and my geekery along a different path.

If Michael was a generous and thoughtful advisor during difficult times, it’s because he knew what it took to navigate life’s ups and downs. The world was not an easy place for him: while he knew how to have fun, he took people and experiences very seriously. Watching his intermittent struggles, I realized that the mechanics of social life, professional life and romance often hinge on not taking things seriously: on overlooking hypocrisy, accepting mediocrity, making nice or making do. Michael didn’t do any of that, and since his combination of intellect, creativity and emotional intensity often gave him a radically different perspective from the people around him, he challenged his colleagues, friends and lovers in ways that could be very uncomfortable. His willingness to challenge people made his own life much harder, but I never heard him complain: more than anyone I know, he recognized that life isn’t supposed to be easy, and found a way of living peacefully in constant struggle.

Michael’s ability to embrace that kind of core contradiction was what made him a completely fascinating, completely exasperating, and completely delightful person. And our relationship might seem to be its own kind of contradiction: there we were, two single straight friends of opposite sexes, and yet there was truly not a moment of sexual tension between us. I knew Michael’s type (super hot, super skinny), and he knew mine (super geeky), and happily neither of us was close to the other’s ideal. But we loved each other deeply, and it was through that love — as much as any romantic love I had experienced — that I learned to form trusting relationships with men.

That may have been the biggest lesson Michael taught me, but it was far from the only one. Michael was by nature a provocateur, so most of the other lessons I learned from him could only be conveyed by relaying stories that involve him saying or doing things that are too outrageous for me to recount. It’s enough to say that I will never look at a stairmaster, a book of IR theory, a pack of Marlboros, an agnes b store, or at many of our grad school classmates, without thinking of his commentary and exploits.

The rich intellect, keen observation and aesthetic delight that Michael shared with all his friends now leave a lot of hearts aching for more. Michael, I love you and miss you. I hope there’s some metaphysical world in which you are dressed to the nines, perched on a Mies van der Rohe chair, swaying to TLC.

Twitter quickstart: Your first 21 tweets

Gillian Shaw pointed out a “Twitter squatter” to me last night — Mel Lehan, the NDP candidate in our riding, who’d nabbed his name on Twitter but not actually posted anything. It’s smarter than not squatting — the last thing you’d want as a candidate is to see someone else posting in your name! — but there is a better way.

If you need to stake a claim to your Twitter identity, but you don’t know what to tweet about, here’s an easy way to get your Tweeting underway. You don’t need to look like the world’s most longstanding Twitterer (after all, Oprah just started tweeting last week!), but an empty Twitter feed is just, well, a little forlorn.

So I’ve taken the liberty of writing your first 21 tweets for you. That’s enough for you to post something once a day for the next three weeks…by which time you should have the hang of Twitter and know what kinds of things you want to say. If not, at least you’ll look like you gave it a decent try.

You can log into Twitter once a day for the next three weeks, or you can use HootSuite to queue up all your tweets so that they go out once a day, automatically. Just set up a HootSuite account (it’s very quick) and give it your Twitter username and password; then post each of these 21 tweets, but select “send later” (and try to vary the times you’re telling HootSuite to post, so you don’t end up posting every 24 hours on the nose).

If you use HootSuite and the tweets below, you can have a perfectly respectable Twitter feed up and running in 15 minutes. If you want to keep it alive, you’ll need to read part 2 of this quickstart guide.

  1. Just joined Twitter. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it works for me/connecting with my friends/finding out more about X.
  2. Check this out — it made me laugh. (Link to a cartoon or funny story you’ve already bookmarked.)
  3. One of you people MUST have my keys. I know I left them right here.
  4. Just got off a great call. We are going to do amazing work for these people.
  5. “Everbody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein
  6. Suggestions on best Twitter client? Can’t decide.
  7. I am so not going to be one of those people who twitter their breakfast choices. Use your imagination, people.
  8. Just tried Seesmic. It’s cool, but I’m not sure if I’ll use it.
  9. “Real freedom lies in wilderness, not civilization.” — Charles Lindbergh
  10. Still not sure how to balance Twitter with Facebook. Same thing? Annoyingly different?
  11. OMG that was the craziest season finale — no spoilers though I promise!
  12. Drowning in e-mail. OK, blitz time!
  13. “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun
  14. Grooving on my new Firefox add-ons. Worried that the performance is a bit slower, though.
  15. Must-read story on the front page today: [insert link to news story of your choice]
  16. Ugh. Too much cheese.
  17. “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
  18. Booked fantastic new gig. Details soon I promise.
  19. I wish my sweetie were here right now.
  20. Having one of those brutal, “I can’t believe I just said that” moments. Ah, this too shall pass.
  21. Three feeds you must follow: @awsamuel @robcottingham @socialsignal

Hey, we wrote your first three weeks’ worth of tweets — don’t we deserve a little gratitude?

Add a tweet, win a Twittercation

Suggest a tweet to add to the list above by:

We’ll retweet our favourites, and the author of the best tweet will win a Twittercation: turn off your computer, and the staff of Social Signal will twitter for you for three weeks! Build followers and amaze your friends with your sense of humour, erudition and extensive inside references to Social Signal blog posts.

6 essential social media tools for your business or organization

If you’re asking how social media can help your business or organization, you should start by answering four questions that will give you a strategic framework for decision-making.

But if you’re itching to get a handle on this social media thing, and want to open your eyes and ears, there are a few tools we recommend as assets to virtually any organization. I’ve listed these in the order I’d recommend adopting each one.

  1. iGoogle is your customized Google home page. Make it your browser’s default page, so it loads whenever you open a new browser window, and add subscriptions (to RSS feeds) that will let you know whenever someone blogs or tweets about you, your products/services, or your industry. For details, read the blog post on RSS that includes instructions on how to create a media monitoring site.
  2. Technorati and Google Blogs search blogs and tell you what people are writing about. Search on your name, your business’s name (and any common misspellings or abbreviations), your competitors’ names, and keywords that people use when they are talking about the kind of problem you solve or market you serve. (You can do the same thing on Google News in order to track media mentions.) Then subscribe to the RSS feed for your search results, using iGoogle. Just try not to get too obsessed with your own blog’s Technorati ranking.
  3. Twitter Search lets you track what people are saying on Twitter the way you’d track what people are saying in blogs. Use iGoogle to subscribe to the RSS feed for your Twitter searches.
  4. Google’s hosted applications offers lots of free web services for your business, including free e-mail hosting. If you like Gmail’s great interface and e-mail tools (I sure do!) you can use Gmail to host your company’s own e-mail (we use it for our @socialsignal.com addresses). Using Google to host your e-mail means you can use my approach to keeping your inbox at zero (CRUCIAL to staying on top of your e-mail!), and importing your customer or contact list into Google’s contacts makes it easy to find those contacts on any new social network you join (because most social networks have a “find friends” feature that will search through your Google contacts for anyone who’s already on that network). You can use Gmail to host your e-mail and still use Outlook, Apple Mail or whichever piece of software you prefer to read and send e-mail.
  5. WordPress is my favorite platform for setting up a blog — or even an entire website. Use the hosted version to quickly and easily set up a blog. Spend the extra $20 to get a custom URL (e.g. www.yourbusinessname.com); if you’ve already bought your domain name you can point it to your WordPress blog (or set up the subdomain blog.yourbusinessname.com and point THAT to WordPress). If your blog takes off, or you want to have more options in how to customize and enhance it, you can easily move it to an independent host and have more customization options.
  6. Google Reader can help you keep track of different blogs in your field so that you can find stuff to write about on your own blog. It’s much more efficient to read all your blogs and searches in one place, rather than hopping around from web site to web site in hope of finding something blog-worthy.

Thanks to the Shop Symposium for inspiring this post!