Jessica Vascellaro of the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about un-friending on Social Networks. The gist was that some people are finding themselves overwhelmed by all their online "friends" and are choosing to severe connections with those they haven't communicated with in a while.
This story was picked up by several sites one of which was profy.com. They provided this quote which I think gets to the heart of the matter.
Of course the entire issue of only keeping the closest people you actually talk to depends on the approach that fits every single person and some may really have nothing better to do than tracking all the status updates from their Facebook friends, commenting on them and exchanging private emails via Facebook as well. To some people paying attention to everyone you are connected with on Facebook may not even be too difficult as only a rare user will actually have enormous number of friends but at the same time the vast majority will have at least a few dozens after graduating from school and university and spending a couple of years working with different companies.
The thing I always try to remember about social networks is that there's been a lot of them. From Blogger to Friendster to Xanga to Livejournal to Myspace and all those in between.
Each of these services were popular for a while and then fell out of popularity fairly quickly. More importantly, each fell out of popularity for the exact same reason.
In each case their users eventually realized the service didn't provide what it had advertised, namely an accurate representation of their "social graph" (as Facebook officials have taken to calling it). Once they realized that they started looking for the next new thing. A service that could provide a perfect, accurate representation of their friends and family.
Each new service has gotten closer and closer to that ideal and each new service has garnered more and more users because of it. Facebook has, at this point, come the closest and that is why it's successful right now.
But the question is this: Is Facebook that perfect representation? I think not.
The problem is Facebook was built on a flat social graph. You basically have "Friends" and that's about it. There are a couple distinctions you can set but certainly not enough to represent the infinite gradient that can be present in actual relationships. Which is the problem. You have friends you want to know everything about, friends you just want to have a way to get in contact with, and so on. Facebook has no way to represent all those categories.
Which is how we come full circle on this. The idea that someone would "un-friend" people seems odd but it's really a sign of flaws in the Facebook system. The system isn't managing people in the way it's users need so the users are taking drastic actions to make it work. I believe this trend will eventually lead users to look elsewhere.
Don't get me wrong, Facebook is still in a good position. By introducing a platform they've managed to take developers' eyes off the ball. Most developers aren't thinking about replacing Facebook they're thinking about developing for it and that's a huge advantage for the company. But that doesn't change the fact that Facebook still has that fatal flaw at it's core and someone is eventually going to realize that and do something about it.
So in closing I do believe a social networking service will eventually stick, but it will have to be one that allows people to categorize, communicate with and keep track of their "Friends" in the ideal way. Facebook may manage to do that in the future but if they don't I think we'll look back on this as the moment that Facebook began it's decline.