The Case for Both Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Relationships

sorry i’m so late with this.  i know i threatened to write it up last week, but, you know.  spare time being what it is.

anyway.

there are quite a few smart folks out there putting forth theories on why followers (vs. friends) are the “right” way to go.  it’s good stuff.  you should read it as a preface to this.  it’s the kind of stuff i churn over all the time as chief web dude over at metaplace.

the crux of the discussion is what’s better? friends or followers?  friends where, through granted requests, you explicitly create a two-way relationship with someone or followers where, by you “following” them back, you create an implicit two-way relationship.

and here’s my official thought, social media sites. (twitter, friendfeed, facebook, myspace, etc.)  so listen up — you need both.

here’s why: both methods, regardless of how they are implemented, are dual purpose.

purpose 1
you create an important relationship between you and another person.  you want to know what they’re doing.  you want to keep in touch.  it’s someone you care about.  you know — that whole “social” thing.

purpose 2
it’s a scoreboard, man.  who has the most friends?  who’s the most popular?  who has the biggest network of contacts?  you know — a social leaderboard.

“so?” you say.

well.  it leads to a problem.  mostly, it’s all about the extra noise. 

someone requests a friendship with you, either by clicking “add friend” or simply by following you, and you say “oh, i casually know that person” or “that was nice of them to follow me” and you confirm the relationship.

pretty soon, you have hundreds — even thousands in some cases depending on your notoriety — of friends.

well, as it turns out, that dunbar number isn’t really a lie despite facebook’s best efforts.  you don’t really care intimately about all of those people.  but, there you are, with a huge polluted friends list that you can’t really trim down without looking like a huge douche.  (celebrities are mostly exempted from the “trim means douche” rule just because of the sheer number of fans they have)

you start dropping all those people you knew back in high school or your friend’s parents or whatever from your public friends list, you’re gonna get called on it.  just ask kevin rose.

anyway.

this is a lot of words to really explain something pretty simple: we need to use something akin to the rss model.

you have private friends.

and you have public subscribers.

this still gives you a public scoreboard number that you can show off like a freakin’ badge of honor and yet, you still can have a smaller, more manageable list of “important people” that you care about.

subscriber is easy and carefree.  very asymmetrical.  like twitter’s followers.  you subscribe.  they subscribe.  everyone subscribes!  it’s free love and big points for all my friends!  … er… followers.  er… subscribers.

friends, however, is an explicit declaration by both people to “become friends” or promote the simple subscriber relationship to a full-on “lemme know ALL your dirt” relationship.  nobody outside of you two has to know about the relationship.  it can stay clean and pure.

best of all, it gives you a chance to filter the data accordingly. (this is where i pwn all you who are saying to yourselves “why not just use followers and groups, noob!”)  the data you care about is going to be different from friend to subscriber.  you have two different buckets where data pours into.

let us use facebook as an example.

raise your hand if you hate, hate, hate getting all the retarded app requests from every single person on facebook that you’ve friended.  *scans the room and sees everyone but crazy aunt hilda in the back has their hand raised*

if you merely subscribe to someone, you wouldn’t get those.  you’d get explicit updates (comments, photos, direct messages, etc.) they put out, but not all of the app spam we all “love.”

all that goes into a subscriber bucket (prolly more like a lake, really) that you can dip your toes into and pull out memes or themes every now and then or just submerge yourself and let the noise of it all just wash over you.

however, your newly minted m3mnoch-proposed friends would be sending you full feeds of everything like normal.  all the subscriber stuff, plus app notes or anything else that they’re doing that would implicitly be interesting to you.  because, if they’re one of the 10 or 20 friends you actively follow and they update their facebook bowling app (is there really one?) with the turkey they just threw, dude — you wanna know!  cause you’re prolly playing the same game!  right now!  (i promise i won’t tell…)

…especially if that saves them the email they’d have to send to you bragging about it anyway.

and then!  then, you don’t have to worry about spammy updates!  the people who you are real friends with would now only include the people you’re prolly on im with all day anyway.

and once you can get the wires that tight, there’s all kinds of cool integration you can do.  automatic trust-type stuff you just can’t assume with today’s friending setups.  not to mention awesome data mining and discovery stuff you can assemble from a developer’s standpoint.

hell.  you might even be able to pull all that external im conversation onto your site.

i mean, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about how many people billy sends an app request to because you would know that all his friends — not subscribers — are honest-to-god interested in it?

m3mnoch.

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4 comments so far

  1. [...] the prosaically-named The Case for Both Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Relationships, post author m3mnoch bravely asserts (without even capitalizing): the crux of the discussion is [...]

  2. [...] for my next post on Twitter (which might not be my next post), take a minute to read this post by m3mnoch.  It’s tangentially relevant, and he’s always a good read, [...]

  3. James Jett on

    Good read, make business sense, and I start using Twitter yesterday in my blog but unable to get it running yet.

  4. lele0124 on

    cause you’re prolly playing the same game! right now! (i promise i won’t tell…really?


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