Apple’s tyranny knows no limits: For more than two years you couldn’t legitimately purchase an iPhone in Israel. Sure, you could bring one from the states and jailbreak it, but it’s a hassle and you can’t enjoy a rebate program with your network operator (nowadays you can). This all changed two months ago when Apple somehow managed to sign up all three big network operators as iPhone distributers and now they’re all overstocked with iPhones. I took advantage of the excess and got myself an iPhone after more than a decade of owning “stupid phones”.
What can I say, my life is changed. But that isn’t the topic of this post.
One of the more comfortable features of a smart phone is address book integration. Your phone can pull an address book from email providers (such as an Exchange server or Gmail) or social network providers (such as Linkedin or Facebook) and anything you add to a contact is automagically synced back to the provider. Without thinking twice, I chose to go with my Gmail account and now my phonebook is forever safe, albeit too visible (if not now, then in some future catastrophy).
I never really thought of an alternative until yesterday, during a visit to the theatre, a friend of mine wrote down my phone number. As he was tapping on his Android device, I noticed my Facebook avatar was on his screen. Apparently, his natural choice was Facebook. That seemed a very odd decision to me, and after thinking about it for a while, I understand why.
There are two main differences between Gmail contacts and Facebook friends. Let’s start with the easier, technical difference:
In Gmail contacts (or any other email contact list) it is my sole discretion to decide on the residents of my address book. Friends? Business partners? That guy I hate and don’t want to answer when he’s calling? They all deserve a place in my address book. These contact entries are easily translated to Gmail entries and perfectly synchronize.
On Facebook, however, there is no notion of a “person”; There is only a “friend”, which symbolizes a relationship and not an individual. Therefore, adding a contact to your phonebook either doesn’t synchronize with your Facebook account, or alternatively creates a relationship, which involves the other party having a Facebook account and mutually confirming the relationship.
So, as far as having perfect synchronization, address books are superior to friend lists.
In the world of the social web, I designate a different role for every network. Facebook is for friends. LinkedIn is for finding work (I haven’t yet, anyone have advice?). Blogs & Twitter are for news, insights and finding new interesting people.
This distinction allows me more freedom in each of these networks, especially in Facebook. I can post events to my whole Facebook circle without any unwanted faces popping out of a cake at my birthday party. I can post notes about my day-to-day life that the general public would be bored about. Reading the news feed of my close friends is always fun and rewarding (as opposed to cryptic or boring for distant acquaintances).
My Facebook account is more lenient to give out information, such as posting my phone number on events I organize. It’s not super-confidential, but I like to keep it very private. That’s why I am very picky about my friends. Your friends have all the information about you, and you should trust them to make fair use of it.
Have you ever received an invitation from a foxy twenty-year-old from Checkoslovakia? As much as I am flattered by an idea of a Czech supermodel randomly pulling out my profile and helplessly falling in love, it’s more probably that it is a robot sending invitations to millions of users, performing what is known in the industry as social harvesting. This is done by companies such as Rapleaf using fake Czech supermodel accounts, combined with plain old black magic. You should never ever accept these invitations, nor should you allow your profile to be accessed by “friends of friends” (one of your friends will prove gullible for Anastasia Bigbussomskaya). If you visit the profile page of the fake robot account, you’ll see thousands of contacts and little activity otherwise. (You should visit the profile page when you are not logged on, as even the visit itself provides some statistics to the robot operator.)
Having explained my concerns about Facebook, I believe it is understandable why I am reluctant to add every Joe I meet on the street to be my friend on Facebook. Some people consider their number of FB friends some sort of a popularity metric. That’s of course far from the truth. It is the degree of involvement you have amongst your contacts that really matters. My Facebook list is too big as it stands today, at 150.
To conclude: Prefer e-mail address books when relevant and stay clear of tigers, in case they escape from the zoo.