Mary Hodder has a post entitled Email Has Evaporated As a Social Tool where she pointed out that she no longer uses email as a "social" tool. Specifically, she doesn't talk to friends and family over email, instead email is for mailing lists, business and spam. Instead she talks to friends and family on Facebook and over IM.

I'm in the same boat. Most of the email I get at my personal email address falls into three categories (a) spam, (b) bills and (c) stuff related to my blog. There is the occassional “social” email exchange with a friend but that happens maybe once every month or two. On the other hand, I’ve been connecting with lots of people who I haven’t talked to in several years from elementary & high school buddies from my time in Nigeria to relatives of friends who live in New York via Facebook.  I’m now a regular user of the site and there seem to be a number of places where the user experience tends to be frustrating which could be fixed with a minor tweak or two. The problems and potential solutions below

  1. Liberate the Status Updates from the Tyranny of the Web Page (APIs, APIs, and Even More APIs): A number of online services have found that opening up their services by providing APIs that enable users to access their stuff from other sites, desktop apps or on their mobile phones is goodness. However a lot of the Facebook API seems geared towards building apps that are hosted in Facebook, than in enabling more ways for users to interact with their data outside of the Facebook user experience. One example of a place where Facebook could add more value to its users via an API is status updates. If I want to view the status updates from my friends, I have to use the status update page on Facebook. I can’t use a desktop application that can just sit in my system tray like Twitterific does for Twitter nor can I write a Windows Live Messenger add-in which syncs my Facebook status message with my IM status message. I’d use the feature a whole lot more if it didn’t involve so many clicks and navigating to the Website every time I wanted to see what was going on with my friends or change my status.

  2. Allow me to Segregate my Friends by Network: Like most people outside college who use Facebook, I now have two broad classes of people on my friends list in Facebook; people I know professionally and people I know personally. I don't think only beauty queens like Miss New Jersey will have problems once they leave school and have all these embarassing pics from college frat parties now available to people who they meet professionally who "friend" them on Facebook. Currently people can decide to create a new account or delete those parts of their lives they feel will be embarassing in a different social context. Being able to create an album that is only visible to my college “friends” or wall posts that are only visible to my work “friends” mirrors reality and is something that Facebook if they don’t want their user base to outgrow the site when they make life transitions.

  3. Fix “How do you know this person?”: Upon adding someone as a friend, Facebook asks “How do you know this person?” then presents a fixed list of options that seem geared towards college students. There’s are lots of people on my list that I leave blank because there are no options for “attended a conference together”, “works in the same industry”, “fan of his blog”, “is my realtor”, “is my doctor”, “is my accountant”, etc. Instead there are options like “we hooked up” and “took a summer course together”. I can understand that they may not want to allow free form entries but they least they could do is update the list to account for their broadening user base. See the following posts for more on this topic; How do I know this person? Through the Web! by Jon Udell, Social networks as “friend” Nazi (design flaws in Facebook, Jaiku, Twitter) by Robert Scoble and It's time to open up networking, again by Dave Winer.

  4. Put Actual Content in Email Notifications: This is another issue that comes up a lot. Facebook will send you a notification that you’ve gotten a message from another user but not the actual content of the message. The purpose of this seems to be to increase the number of page views generated by users which seems to be working given that the site averages over 50 page views a day per user according to ComScore. Unfortunately, it is also rather irritating. Maybe a healthy balance is to put the content of the message in the email and provide links that take you to the response page directly in the email.   

Speaking of feedback on the Facebook user experience, I wonder if anyone from Facebook will be at the Facebook Developer Garage- Seattle next week? It should be an interesting opportunity to get to hear the perspectives of a broad collection of developer minded people who've been taking the site for a spin.

Now playing: Three 6 Mafia - Stay Fly (feat. Young Buck, EightBall & MJG)



Monday, July 23, 2007 10:53:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Has the backlash already begun? :)
Monday, July 23, 2007 11:01:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, I think your segregation idea is terrific. However, I suppose Facebook networks (geographical, school, etc.) would be be too coarse-grained sometimes. Options for who can view an item could include restricting viewership to only the user's contacts, or to a subset of the user's contacts. Selection of a subset of contacts would be aided by giving the user the ability to define named groups of contacts. Perhaps that's what you meant by "network".

David Gelbart
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:06:43 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So let me get this straight, Facebook sends you and EMAIL when you get a message? Wow, that's brilliant. So now you get a bunch of emails tell you that you have messages. You have to then log into something else to read them. Sounds like a useless extra step to me. Why not just send an email?

Putting the content of the Facebook message in the email would cut Facebook out of the loop, which would probably be an improvement.

I'm definitely seem to be in the minority here, but I find little value in these social networking sites including Facebook.
anti-social ;-)
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 1:15:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
#2 exists, partially.

Photos -> add new -> Visible to -> Some of my networks and all of my friends.

Could do with being a tad more fine-grained though (read: won't be good enough till I can control which individual users can see each photo).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 3:43:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Re #1 and viewing status updates - I use the "Subscribe to Updates" link on the Status Updates page to track my friend's statuses in a Windows Sidebar gadget and on via RSS. Subscribe to Updates is hidden nicely on the lower right side.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:55:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Nice read...the last 10 evenings I have spent on getting a WCF wrapper going for the facebook API. My first WCF project, in fact. It works well now. I shall have something written about the experience pretty soon. The API does not cover all fb aspects, but you can pull out your friends' statuses through an API call. The API itself is certainly not my favorite. Just look at Twitters API instead. Lovely (I was most surprised that the LA fire department is represented on twitter. Check out their emergency calls in almost real time...). As to why you have to go to their page all the time I can only guess that it's once more down to ads, probably the only money source they've got (if you discard the "amazing" function of buying a 'gift' for 1$). Having the API allows people to add value to the platform, hence (hopefully) attracting people, but does not provide any direct revenue to them.
Thursday, July 26, 2007 7:24:27 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Keeping the composing and viewing of Facebook mail within the site itself gives Facebook deep flexibility to do things which are not possible with ordinary email. This could mean embedding videos or other materials which are hosted on the site and do not have public URLs. This could mean letting people know whether their mail has been read by the recipient (although there may
be a privacy issue there). I wonder what else it makes possible.
David Gelbart
Thursday, July 26, 2007 8:04:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
We can all agree that ordinary email has major problems:

1) It's easy to send automated spam.
2) It's easy to forge (phishing).
3) If someone uses their school's or employer's email system, their address may stop working when they move on to somewhere new.
4) Lack of encryption creates vulnerability to eavesdropping. I would never send a password or a credit card number through ordinary email.

If you are mailing people in your friends list, Facebook mail solves 1-3 and could solve 4 if Facebook switched from HTTP to HTTPS. If mail contents are copied into external emails, Facebook loses the ability to solve 2 and 4. (People could still catch forgeries by checking their inbox on the site or checking mail headers, but not everyone is that careful or sophisticated.) It seems to me that's not a big deal now, considering how Facebook is used today, but it could be in the future depending on how usage of the site evolves.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 4:41:55 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Big amen to #4. With the messages, at least you can turn the notifications off. And in addition to segregation, I wish they'd make it so you could have three versions of your profile. Instead of just limited, public and the standard, they should also have one for friends, one for business, and one for friends you know through business.
Tinu Abayomi-Paul
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 11:55:30 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
there's a guy (Christian Flickinger) who found a hack to actually change your status message programmatically, even if this is not exposed by the API, by just submitting the right POST:
His PHP sample works like a charme... I also would like to port it to C# and maybe have my Windows Live Messenger Status propagate to Facebook... I was actually thinking this today and I had not yet found this post of yours :-)
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