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Does Facebook take serendipity out of your online experience?

While reading this article on RWW, I went to Mark Zuckerburg's Facebook profile and lo! I see all of my own contacts on that page as people who subscribed to Mark.

What I was probably expecting to see on Mark's page was a list of his close friends, a few close facebook employees or industry veterans etc; not people whose status updates I anyway see on my Facebook stream every few hours. 

It's true that seeing that some of my own Facebook friends follow Mark's stream means that I too would be tempted to follow Mark - in fact this is even more true if the page I was visiting for not a public figure like Mark but a mutual friend of a friend, whom I wouldn't follow / subscribe to otherwise. However, Facebook takes the concept of familiarity to a complete extreme. In fact, wherever I go on Facebook, my own network follows me closely. For example, I go to a new Facebook page through someone's recommendation appearing on my FB Stream, it is usually the same person's photo which appears first in the list of friends who like it.  

For a moment if I were to do a thought experiment of how Twitter would do it - I would be shown a small snippet of Mark's latest status updates, the names / faces of people who follow Mark, names of people whom Mark follows, may be even top 5 statuses which Mark retweeted (Shared / Liked in Facebook lingo) from those whom he follows. (I use the term status synonymous with tweet here, guess you get the hang!) 

Facebook does nothing like the above - it simply engulfs each and every activity of mine into the coterie which I indicate as my 'Friend Universe'. This often defeats the purpose of being on a 'social' network because it prevents me as a user from serendipitous discovery of new people which also inhibits my discovery of new thoughts and ideas. All this in the name of "personalization"! 

Facebook is all about personalization, while Twitter is all about network effects.
I find Twitter very refreshing - I get to see so many new ideas on Twitter everyday. There are two reasons for this - first is similar to what I get on Facebook as well i.e. re-tweets / shares which allow me to retweet a thought which everyone on my own stream will also see (exposing them to this thought); however as outlined above Facebook's UI does not help much in this feature. The second feature which Facebook completely inhibits is my ability to follow anyone; Yes I can follow SRK or Tom Cruise or my next door neighbor without their permission (this also works on Google+).

I believe Facebook needs to work actively on de-stressing the "personalization" and increasing the viral / network effect to help its users discover more and take advantage of being on a Global Social Network than make their online experience a ditto reflection of their offline relationship. And as users, I think the above is a more important debate we should be having as users than the over hyped privacy concerns raised about Facebook.


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