The secret to an enjoyable social networking experience is the ability to properly manage your content. Better content management control equals a better experience. Despite the fact that it originated from a user-unfriendly design that was aimed at college kids looking to poke (online or off) each other, Facebook finally seems to get this, and they are constantly introducing new features that will serve both Facebook’s purpose (internet domination) and ours (a better user experience).
As I was dragged, typing and clicking, onto Facebook (Friend me if we are), the first thing that struck me was the sheer volume of posts relating to Farmville and other similar nonsense. For a while I was amazed at the amount of gibberish that crossed my screen. It was almost as chaotic as Twitter (Follow me), except that nothing else can be that chaotic.
Facebook filters were the first and biggest step in my Facebook content management initiative. In one or two clicks I can forever rid my stream of Farmville and all sorts of other so-called games that inspire so many seemingly sane people to obsessively hunt for and/or give away livestock and implements (or whatever one does in Farmville) while the developers of Farmville undoubtedly pinch themselves repetitively on their way to the bank.
Filters helped me avoid much of the bad stuff, but I wanted a way to find the good stuff. Like most people, my list of Facebook “Friends” spans various segments of my real life. I have hometown friends, college friends, local friends, and tech friends. Lists allow us to separate content into buckets of people, but separating content by person doesn’t work very well. For example, if one of my college friends says something interesting about a tech topic, I won’t see it if I’m reading my “Tech” list.
We needed a way to manage content by topic. The recently released Facebook Groups feature gives us this. It’s really early, but I think Facebook has hit a homerun with Groups. Here’s why.
They Are Topic Based and Deeper
As noted above, segmenting your Facebook stream into buckets of people is not an elegant solution. Groups, at least the ones I am involved in so far, are generally topic based. My favorite Group so far is a tech group, set up by one of my Facebook friends. It allows me to quickly consume lots of good, non-spammy content written by people who are invested in the topic. Additionally, it allows me to share information and interact with a lot of people who share the interest but are not my Facebook “Friends.” As long as the Groups can be properly managed (more on that below), I think Groups will quickly become the go-to place to discuss topics on Facebook.
Being topic based also helps reduce the amount of other content which, while not quite Farmville-stupid, isn’t interesting to me. I’m primarily talking about party-spoon-fed political hate-regurgitation (I’m really bored with all the Obama-bashing) and supposedly, but not really, uplifting quotes. If I can tune my Facebook content like a TV channel, my Facebook experience will be more efficient and more enjoyable.
All of this makes me think Groups will very quickly become the default Facebook hangout for most people.
In fact, I think Groups will eventually become the backbone of Facebook, content-wise, design-wise and revenue-wise. Think about what topic-based Group pages will mean for advertisers. Sounds a little Google-like, huh?
There’s No Imported Content Which Leads to More Interaction
Unlike my main Facebook stream, where many people import content they create other places (such as Twitter), all of the content in Facebook Groups originates from within the group. I have actually filtered out real-world friends on my main Facebook stream because so much of their content is imported that they don’t even see Comments and stuff. If we can’t talk, then all you’re really doing is spamming me. That is much less of a concern within Groups.
Meaningful interaction is the primary mover for much of the internet herd. And it is about 100 times better in the main Facebook stream than on Twitter, and it’s about 10 times better in Facebook Groups than in the general Facebook stream. That’s a lot. Of content, interaction, and potential ad dollars.
There is the Potential for Proper Curation
Over time Facebook is going to have to give Group administrators a way to police members and probably even membership. Years of online community building has taught me that there will be a segment of any group (lower or upper case) who only wants to harass and/or spam. This is an absolute. It will, at least initially, be less of a problem in “closed” Groups, like the tech group I am spending a lot of time reading, but it will be an issue for all Groups. Probably sooner than later.
Note that I said “proper” curation. The one thing that will drive me away from Groups and possibly Facebook as a whole is if Groups become like merit badges, and we end up in some new Gatekeeper controversy. Proper curation should toss troublemakers out, but not serve as an implement of exclusion.
Done correctly, however, Facebook Groups can increase the quality of content geometrically. Quality content, properly managed is the holy grail of online communities.
Facebook has some work to do, but I think Groups are going to be huge.
And About Google.Me (or Leave My Email Alone)
As a brief aside, the only other platform that has the potential to create this sort of curated interaction is Google Reader. It’s too bad Google has largely abandoned Google Reader in its now redundant effort to create a content management tool inside of Gmail (which was obviously done to co-opt the huge Gmail user base). I’m so in love with Chrome, that I’d try like hell to support any sane attempt by Google at social networking, but I am not optimistic that Google is going to present us with anything compelling. My one hope (and remember this) is that Google.Me ends up embedded in Chrome (both the browser and the OS) instead of Gmail. By itself, that won’t guarantee success, but it would be enough to make me take a long look. And to pull for them.