”Fake Following” to avoid information overload in social networks

September 2, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Happy with a blow-up doll Many blogs have commented on FriendFeed’s beta feature that allows you to restrict which connections’ updates appear in your feed.

I look forward to other social networks following suit—as it will be huge progress in solving the problem of social network information overload.

Problems with Invitations and Reciprocity

Social networks have either mandatory or suggested reciprocity in the way invitations behave.  Mandatory reciprocity means that if I invite you and you accept, then we’re connected and see each other’s updates.  This is the case on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and FriendFeed, for instance.  Other networks, like Twitter or Flickr, do not require a reciprocal connection but there’s often the pressure for one.

This brings up two problems:

  • There is not a universally understood etiquette for whose invitation to accept or reciprocate on social networks.  Thus many people would rather accept a friend request than potentially be in the uncomfortable situation of appearing to reject someone.
  • There’s a finite amount of updates from one’s connections that one can realistically consume.

To put it simply for my personal situation, I want to accept/reciprocate most invitations, but I have neither the time nor the interest to pay attention to everyone’s updates.

Fake Following

In the last few months I’ve been begging for an application that would allow me to only view the updates of some of my connections…without my having to drop connections to the other ones.

FriendFeed’s “Fake Following” does something similar.  It allows you to simply not receive updates from some of your connections.

Gwen Bell takes this topic head-on, recognizing that this will help her attention stream without rocking the boat in an online relationship.  She believes she should “do whatever it takes to preserve harmony in relationship with others. Sometimes ‘it’ is a white lie.”  This white lie is to appear to follow someone online, but actually to avoid their updates.

I agree with Gwen.  While Fake Following may not be the best feature (or the best name for one), it’s progress in that it filters our intake without damaging our relationships.

Other Proposed and Potential Solutions

Merlin Mann offered some great advice for how to improve on this sort of feature by making a case for the pause button. He holds that every social network should make it easy to pause updates for certain connections.  Maybe it’s a permanent pause or maybe it’s just the ability to take a break for x hours.  This approach is a bit more humane and granular than Fake Following.

Personally I’m not just interested in restricting connections’ updates, but also in highlighting the updates of others.  There are a few people who I want to stay in touch with but often don’t notice amidst all the noise (on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr, for instance).

Another feature on FriendFeed’s beta would help with my situation: grouping.  Grouping allows you to display the updates from a specific group of connections, and no one else.  Unfortunately Facebook and Twitter are where I’m most interested in this capability.

A similar feature might be available for Twitter if Twitly worked (it wasn’t allowing me to add connections to groups in my testing).  Twitly allows you to group your Twitter friends.  Then you could see the updates of just one group if you wanted .

Facebook’s Option feature does work pretty well, at least in my limited experience.  It learns which updates to highlight and which to ignore.  However it’s not available for all items in the mini-feed.

Facebook Options in the Mini-Feed

Update: Facebook’s Live Feed with Friend List Filtering

As per some insight from Titus below, I’ve taken a look at Facebook’s Live Feed + Friend List.  It allows you to display all the updates of the friends that you’ve added to a particular friend list.  (Friend Lists are created in the “Friends” area and they can be filtered from the main Facebook news area, as pictured below).

This feature allows you to see all the updates of only the people you’re interested in (at that time).  Here’s an example from my account this morning:

Example of Friend List filtering within a Live Feed

The Future of Social Network Filtering

Regardless of how these sort of features come to be—groups, pauses, fake following, or others—I think there needs to be a way to prioritize and thus have manageable amounts of information within our social networks.

I’m glad to see this with FriendFeed and hope other social networks will follow suit.  Have you tried out Fake Following?  Or know of any other similar tools?

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8 Responses to “”Fake Following” to avoid information overload in social networks”

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  1. Productivity in Context » Blog Archive » Restricted Following for Higher Productivity


  1. Titus

    Have you taken a look at Facebook’s new “Livefeed?” You can set up friend lists and filter the feed by the entries that are applicable to just those friends. There’s more functionality that would make it more useful, but overall it seems pretty capable.

  2. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Titus! That does seem rather interesting. Here’s some more information on it from AllFacebook. I’ll play around and report back. (I haven’t yet read about its filtering features.)

  3. Titus

    Yeah, Nick’s article didn’t say anything about the filtering by friend list, though, which is what I found most interesting.

  4. Jared Goralnick

    Thanks, Titus. To help explain this feature, I’ve incorporated some notes and a screenshot above. Really appreciate your pointing this out!

  5. Aaron Dragushan

    Hey Jared, I use Facebook’s filters, and it’s working great. Note that you can get an RSS feed for that as well. For Twitter I haven’t found a good solution yet. A yahoo pipe would probably work but who wants to go to the trouble?

  6. Jared Goralnick

    Those are some good tips, Aaron! I don’t know how fast a YahooPipe will be, but I can always find out. I’m also playing around with SocialThing, though I’m not sure that it does much in the way of filtering.

  7. Zvi Band

    I think you have to go one level deeper than the issue of reciprocating invites. The underlying issue is that people have their own different views of what constitutes “friendship” on social networks – somewhat similar to real world friendship, that you have spoken of before. Because of this, you’ll often end up with “friends” who have little interest to you, therefore diluting the value of the activity of the overall network.

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