Facebook should update its concept of ‘Friends’


With its IPO now public, Facebook is about to enter something of dark zone for announcements – a move which will no doubt leave a void for speculation and rumour among tech writers. So I thought I might jump the gun with a thought of my own: should Facebook replace “friends” with Likes?

Danny Whatmough and I were recently discussing how to balance the use of different social networks – what are they for and what do you post where? One thing that came up was Facebook and how the friends we had on there didn’t really reflect our current interests and every day any more. It had become almost a scrapbook of people from years and places past.

Who do you Like?

So I’ve started friending more people that I previously might have just left on Twitter. All people that I’ve met in person, it should be noted, but still a sharp contrast to the previous lineup of friends from uni and outside the industry.

The thing is, it still feels a bit weird – are we ‘friends’? Are we “Facebook friends”? What does that mean when it comes to connecting with people online? Am I even still friends with most of the people that are on there from uni? It’s nonsense.

But there is one thing that is in common between those old uni/ school friends and those from our industry that I’ve added recently. They are all people I like. And isn’t that the point rather than the outdated label of “friends”?

Why doesn’t Facebook get rid of the ‘friends’ concept and replace it with Like for people as well as brands?

What’s the difference?

Today you have Like, Friend and Join as verbs on FB. And there are more joining the party all the time as apps from Spotify, The Guardian, Netflix etc become more common. So arguably this would be a move in the exact opposite direction to what they’re establishing currently establishing – all appearances suggest that Facebook’s mission is to go more broad with its reach, not to consolidate and simplify.

But at the same time, it’s trying to encourage people to use the service in a style more like Twitter or Google+ – just look at the subscription function for evidence of that.

If Facebook made this little change, I think it would be a massive step toward changing people’s attitude to the network to use it more openly like Twitter. And with changes like the Subscribe function and growing encouragement to share share share, that seems I’ve a key goal.

If that more public and Twitter-like behaviour increases to match the private activity that happens on Facebook, you’re now looking at something much more like Google+. And what’s not to Like about that?

- Max Tatton-Brown

February 26th, 2012

  • Alexp

    Well, this is all fairly subjective. It really depends on how you use FB. I suspect the majority of people don’t use it the way you and Danny do.

    Sure you might expand the reach of FB by modifying the verb, but wouldn’t it also erode at one of the differentiators between it and, say, LinkedIn; that people perceive that they’re setting up a network of ‘Friends’ (however untrue that might be), rather than ‘contacts’ or ‘people they like’ (which, to me, feels a little anemic.

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Thanks for the comment Alex but I think it misses the point. I’m an early adopter so of course I’m likely to start using things like Subscribe and posting things publicly more than most but that doesn’t mean other won’t follow.

    This post considers what may be stopping others using FB in new ways and suggests that the ‘friends’ metaphor is one cause.