Piers Fawkes: How I Became A Born Again Facebooker, By Deleting My Mother & 1,500 Friends

How PSFK founder spent days removing everyone I knew – so his future web experience would be improved.

I guess that I started off using Facebook the wrong way, or at least I seemed to use it a different way than most folks did. Facebook emerged as I was growing my business and as an early adopter I saw it as a channel to share links to PSFK articles. As I did this I accepted as many friends as I could so I could hit them with updates about PSFK.

As a tool to get traffic it worked pretty well at the beginning. There was no algorithm managing what was landing in people’s feeds then. But as a result, people I actually knew started to send me friend requests — old school buddies, work mates from early jobs, cousins of my wife. I added them all as friends building my list to over 1,600 people.

But then I started to hear how people would complain that all I did was spam PSFK articles. At some point I just switched off the auto RSS and walked away from the network, only posting the occasional sunset pic.

While my Facebook use started to drop off, I noticed that I was still using my login as a quick way to sign into web and mobile services. Clicking the ‘sign up using Facebook’ button was a simple and relatively secure way to get into these sites fast. As they evolved, these sites started to use my data to tailor their services. Shopping sites like Glimpse would analyze my social profile and provide fashion recommendations. The trouble was that the site was serving female clothing recommendations to me, based on the likes and interests of my network of Facebook friends.

glimpse-before-facebook-cull

I realized that it was a time for a change when I started to use Jelly, the photographic Q&A service from Twitter founder Biz Stone. It’s a smart service. You sign up via a Facebook login, then share an image with a question and people connected with you via Facebook or someone in their network would answer, or vice versa.

jelly-facebook

But that was where the problem is. The questions were being shared from cities big and small by the friends of my friends on Facebook. I was asked random questions like the best restaurant recommendations in Salt Lake City, the best bar to meet VCs in San Francisco or just was this dog cute.

My 1,600 so-called friends were ruining this new world of the web for me. A new set of services thought that my Facebook account reflected who I am. Instead, the network effect of an ambiguous group of contacts had lead to my inability to use these new services effectively. I couldn’t use Jelly, I couldn’t rely on anything that used Facebook to personalize it’s service. I got worried that this was only going to get worse as more mobile apps began to use social networks to verify sign-ups and build fast communities.

So I decided to take the axe to my Facebook friends. I was determined to hack my profile into shape. If services were using this data to estimate who I was like and therefore how to personalize their offering, it was time to tailor a network of people who I thought really reflected who I was. I decided to cut my list of 1,600 friends and guessed that 101 chosen people should represent me upon analysis.

But who would stay – and who did I have to axe to reach this number? Here’s a break down of how I got there:

1. Contacts I met through work

I didn’t need to see a pic of the kids of a guy you met at a conference. I also didn’t need to see the golf scorecard from the woman I used to work with in the 90s. LinkedIn provides a much better way to stay in touch with professional contacts. Fire them from Facebook.

2. Your partner’s cousins, uncles and aunts

Sure, I love those holiday get togethers but your partner’s relatives don’t reflect who you are. Probably your relatives don’t either.

3. Anyone else that I didn’t know

It’s amazing who you can’t remember.

So 1-3 got me from 1,500 to 500 friends. Now was the hard part.

4. People I knew at college/university

My theory was that most of these could now be considered Work Contacts. If they had met up with me in the last 5 years for dinner or drinks then they stayed on the list.

5. Colleagues at PSFK

I love the people I work with, but I’m so old they don’t even invite me to their weekend picnics anymore.  I felt that only one who had been for a one-on-one drink with me could stay.

6. People I wanted to be friends with but weren’t really my friends

Along the way, I had gathered people on my list who were well known but I didn’t really know them. Some were people I looked up to, some were senior people in companies that I admired. Had I ever hung out with them? No.

This got me to 150 but I had promised myself 100.

7. Friends from school

Axing contacts from my childhood  was one of my most difficult decisions. Facebook had linked me with people I hadn’t seen in decades – and probably it was the only way to remain in touch. But I decided that I wasn’t really connected with most of them – they were just parts of my history, but not active participants in my life today. I kept a small group – kids who had been in contact since school.

8. People with kids or animals as their profile pics

I had to get the last few off my list, so I just had to make a quick decision. If these contacts thought that their kids were the best ways to represent themselves, that’s fine, but maybe their Facebook updates would steer the services I was using the wrong way. They were the last to go.

Who did I end up with?

In one line: 101 people I had recently broken bread or clinked glasses with. A list of people that I liked and I knew. They were all people who I had spent social time with in the real world. They were people who looked me up when they came to town, and people I pinged when I visited their cities. I guess you can call them friends!

So how did this effect the services? The change in Glimpse was modest but noticeable. When I hit 1,000 friends Glimpse stopped showing the high heels but still had a nice sparkly top. It also had cowboy boots. At 100, no women’s clothes but instead shirts and a pair of Clarks. Not a bad guess. Not too sure about the US flagged boots though…

glimpse-after-facebook-cull

And Jelly? Well, the Q&A service no longer serves me personalized questions because few of my 100 friends or their friends are using the service. Instead it had to serve up questions that were marked as Good by Jelly team. In some ways this was more interesting than what I was offered before.

An interesting side-effect was that Facebook became interesting to me again. I have started to use it — share stuff and look at the pics of people’s kids who I recognize. The updates I see are from people I like, and folks who I am really interested in.

Having done this, I would certainly recommend culling friends if you are using your Facebook login to sign up for services that personalize results based on the data they can gather. As the web moves from desktop to mobile, more and more services are going to continue to use your social profiles to jump start your membership. Your Facebook account, along with your ‘friends’, is your default profile on the web whether you like it or not, and so it’s important that you shape this if you want to get the most out of your future digital life.

I’d imagine that execs at Facebook might flinch at the idea of their users pruning their Facebook friends, but I actually think it would help the service. The reduction to 101 contacts could make the service far more interesting for users and therefore better engaged with them. Plus, in a time of privacy and security concerns, our Facebook profiles could actually be our login to the rest of the web.

Go on. Lose a friend and get a better web.

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