Update: My post below created a great deal of discussion about Twitter Auto DMs and whether they are welcome and worthwhile or unwelcome and damaging to senders' reputations. Because of the diversity of opinion, I created a brief 10-question survey and invite you to complete the survey and then share it with your followers on Twitter. The survey should take less than 3 or 4 minutes to complete, so please visit: http://blogs.forrester.com/augie_ray/10-11-02-please_complete_a_brief_su… or http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CFSTQ3D. I'll share all of the data here on the Forrester blogs in a week or two!
There’s an alarming and irritating trend on Twitter as of late. Some people are sending automatic Direct Messages to every new follower asking them to connect on Facebook. First of all, auto DMs are annoying (and I almost always unfollow a person for sending one). Second, I just followed you on Twitter—why is this not sufficient? But lastly and most importantly, Facebook is for “real friends” and not for collecting connections. Yes, you can certainly collect lots of virtual friends if you want, but this isn’t really the point of Facebook, and increasingly there will be privacy repercussions for following folks who are not known and trusted.
From the start, Facebook been quite clear that the social network is for facilitating real and firm relationships and not making soft, virtual ones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it best when speaking to Time Magazine back in 2007:
“Our whole theory is that people have real connections in the world. People communicate most naturally and effectively with their friends and the people around them. What we figured is that if we could model what those connections were, [we could] provide that information to a set of applications through which people want to share information, photos or videos or events. But that only works if those relationships are real. That's a really big difference between Facebook and a lot of other sites. We're not thinking about ourselves as a community — we're not trying to build a community — we're not trying to make new connections.”
The reason it’s important to understand how Facebook itself views Facebook is that doing so puts into perspective how the company is adding new features and what this means to your control and privacy on the social network. For example, when Facebook added Places two months ago, one feature about which some complained was that a person could be checked into a location by any of his or her friends. Of course, the level of alarm you may have for this sort of feature will vary depending upon whether you have friended a couple dozen of your closest friends or thousands of virtual strangers.
Facebook has again offered a new feature that further reinforces the company’s vision of Facebook as a place for “real friends.” Called Friendship Pages, this new feature permits you to see all of the conversations and sharing between two individuals. To see a Friendship page, you must be friends with one of the people and have permission to view both people's profiles.
To some, these new Friendship pages are “just plain creepy,” but this is yet another example of Facebook creating a virtual space for real friendships and not a tool for community building. It's a lot less creepy for others see a discussion between you and another individual when all involved are close friends (and it should be noted that Friendship Pages only display the communications such as wall posts and comments that you've already made available to others.)
There’s a lot of buzz about privacy in Facebook as of late, but one of the most powerful privacy “settings” gets too little attention: Limiting who you follow may be the most vital privacy tool you have aside from the top-level privacy settings in Facebook. With potent connection-making tools like Twitter and LinkedIn available, there’s no reason to reduce your privacy and surrender control by amassing a large number of virtual friends/strangers in Facebook.
Facebook has made it clear how it views its own service, so we should not be surprised when the company creates new features that assume you have an intimate and trusting relationship with the people to whom you are connected. You wouldn’t give strangers access to your email inbox, nor should you do the same for your Facebook communications and data.