14 October 2007 @ 5am

ideas, web2.0

I Liked Facebook More Before It Became Myspace

PearBudget’s not really going to be a social application. I know “social” is the new(ish) hotness, but it’s not what we’re going to be focusing on (Wesabe does it well, though.) Our single-minded purpose: help people who are new to personal finance to get a handle on their spending.

One danger faced by “social utilities” that I just wanted to point out: when the “social” outweighs the “utility,” you’re going to have a problem. Here’s a screenshot I took on Facebook a few days ago.

Facebook Extension Invites

That’s just ridiculous.

I don’t fault the people who invited me to become zombie / slayer / jedi / sith / pirate / ninja / werewolf / potatoes. They’re into it, and that’s great. But I should be able to permanently opt-out of receiving invites to things I don’t want. The “utility” I find on Facebook is in reconnecting with old friends. And, in fact, it’s been great for that. But there are very few extensions to Facebook that I find compelling. Even “Causes” is off my list (Have you given money to each of the causes on your list? Yes? Good. No? Well, I’m sure they appreciate that they’re on your Facebook profile.).

That all being said, here’s an extension that I’d love to see. (The people I know who know what they’re talking about say this can’t be done (because of the Facebook API), and I have no reason to doubt them. But maybe you can come up with a way to do it.) If you can build it, please do. Startup Weekend folks, I hope you’re listening to this.

Summary: Facebook would show you who you know in the real world, but who you haven’t connected with yet on Facebook.

Sound fanciful? It’s not.

The way it works is this: Let’s say that, in the real world, I know Person A, Person B, Person C, and Person D. I’ve told Facebook that I know person A, C, and D. Person B somehow fell through the cracks. Person B has also said that she knows persons A, C, and D. Facebook should be able to put two and two together, and figure that I probably know Person B. Two people who know the same collection of people probably know each other. The algorithm could be extended, based off of second-degree friendships and the other loose ties that make up our social graph, but the initial logic is super simple. Facebook would give me a list of people who it thinks I probably know, even though I haven’t indicated that I know them.

Another way to say it: You know how you can look at your friends’ friends, and you’ll occasionally see someone who you know (in real life), but their profile notes say “Add this person as a friend”? This extension would simply run through each of your friends’ profiles, looking for the people who come up the most. It would then list them, in order of frequency of appearance. It could have a minimum threshold of, say, 5 mutual friends. Beyond that threshold, the false positive rate would go up exponentially (that’s called … what … getting wagged by the long tail?).

Yet another way to say it: Currently, when somebody friends you, it includes in the notice “You and X know _five people_ in common.” This would simply flip that around and automate it, so the two of you would each get notices that the other person’s on Facebook. You could take it from there.

I’ve seen LinkedIn begin to play with this. I hope they continue with it. And I hope Facebook introduces it as a feature. It’d put the “utility” back into the equation.

On the other hand, once this launches, I’ll probably get a lot more invites to become a zombie potato.

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