Facebook's Social Chaos Problem

I have been in awe of the new possibly-Twitter-killing Facebook redesign. What Facebook has done with FBConnect, Public Pages and the new home page opens up whole worlds of possibilities to the rest of the web. Facebook Apps were a bummer -- you could do all the work, take on all the dynamic interaction infrastructure and Facebook ended up with all the traffic. Now the world opens up for all of us to interact with social networks in a completely new way.

But the new home page is starting to tumble away into a social chaos. I'll give it to Facebook -- I check my Facebook front page regularly now where I used to check in only to approve new friend requests or see photos.

Sometimes software really benefits from not having transparent rules. Google's pageranking is probably the best example of this. If we all knew exactly how it worked, it would be gamed immediately and destroyed. How does something make the front page of Digg exactly? Those algorithms need to be guarded like they the briefcase in The Spanish Prisoner.

But the way that a message is chosen to reach my home page in Facebook is also obscured. And that's not the right time to obscure a thing. Essentially, like Google's pagerank abstractly explains itself, Facebook is trying to reach me with the people they think I'll care most about. Twitter has the advantage in this case of being completely up front about who gets what and how. It's evolving as it becomes a "Twitterverse" but everyone basically had to know the rules to show up to the party.

Does everyone realize how this new Facebook is working?

I'm a big fan of chaos. I tend to thrive on it and admire the moments where success comes out of it. But Facebook's new home page may be too insane.

It's getting awkward. I'm hesitant to post anything to my status or publish anymore. Its going to be broadcast out to 145 people who I all know and who didn't initially sign up to hear me all that much.

When you are thinking about conversation and sharing, the size of a group is disproportionately important to the dynamics. And the context for how everyone in the group arrived is as important. If you throw a dinner party and only after dessert reveal that you actually want everyone to talk politics or to see your vacation photo slideshows, its a little freaky.

So as I read the status messages, I get the feeling that half of the people broadcasting have no idea I'm reading this. I think they imagined it a bit differently -- my gut guess is that they thought only people going to their wall would get their latest broadcast. But its all in our home page, and every comment is broadcast out. Some things seem they should have been whispers -- comment replies meant for one friend but that unknowingly are heard by most everyone they ever knew.

I get the feeling its going to Friendster-ize on them as the quiet people on Facebook start to mock the twitterati who are flocking to their new loudspeaker.

I don't mean this to buzzkill any one from sharing their hearts out. And honestly, I'd rather have some companies explode to new heights while we're going through the greater depression. But I wonder if this all is really going to work out for Facebook.

A couple years ago the buzz of everybody's parents joining Facebook was the big conversation. Now we're talking about the grandparents. This is amazing, and good. It reminds me of how the zocalo works in Mexico, or the plaza in Spain or piazza in Italy. Everybody goes there -- its like the nice part of a wedding but every weekend evening. Match.com filled that vacuous void for post college singles in this country, some way to meet each other. Facebook has filled the larger void behind it, the result of tens of thousands of cultures thrown together in the US.

But Facebook is going to have to figure out how to make gossip work in this new zocalo they've created. Because if you returned home from an evening in the zocalo to find out that everything everyone said was written down and broadcast to the rest of everybody -- disaster!

I don't want Facebook to just roll back to their previous state. But how can they evolve this to the right place? They risk burning their smaller percent of core users and thought leaders by leaving them out to be mocked by the rest of us quietly watching.

I'm interested in hearing your ideas, not as complaints for the old Facebook, but for predictions of what Facebook will do to evolve their new home page in the coming weeks and months.