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How I Organized My Facebook Contacts, and What These People Mean to Me

Posted on 12 July 2009

If you follow social media at all you’re aware of the fact that there’s a fair amount of debate surrounding the two titans of “connection making,” Facebook and Twitter. The story goes like this: MySpace reigned supreme as a quick and easy way to make a personal webpage, then link that with other friends. Then Facebook came along and offered a “closed wall” alternative: no more could just anybody find you and request to be your friend, now you had to approve them and let them into your network. The emphasis was supposed to be on using social networking not as a way to connect with new people, but as a way to enhance already existing relationship. Then, Twitter came along, everyone loves it, and now Facebook is trying to get more public because that’s what people want.
I don’t think the debate is reducable to whether people want their online profile to be public or private, I think it’s that they want to be able to control WHAT is public and private, and just how public or private every individual thing is. Sites like have been attempting to do this by offering profiles for “work”, “friends” and “public” and Facebook has been doing this, somewhat, with its privacy options, but even then you’re only allowed to say “all of my photos can be seen by these people” rather than “I want this photo to be seen by x, y, and z, but this one to only be seen by x and y, and I definitely don’t want n to see any of them, except maybe this and this one.” If they manage to do that with their new publisher options, I’m pretty sure they’ll have the knock-out punch.

However, the control over who sees what is only half of the equation: the other part is what do I see when I log into Facebook? With Twitter, I was on the ball early with using Tweetdeck to organize the people I follow into categories like friends, bands, networking contacts, news feeds and so on so that I can easily see the stuff that matters to me when I want to (for example, I follow news sites in order to get up to the minute information, and so I only tend to look at the most recent posts in the “news” category, whereas for friends I like to actually see everything they have to say, so I’ll browse that column more thouroughly). Since I started my Facebook profile back when I was a newbie to the internet, I a) had no idea that you COULD organize your contacts and b) wouldn’t have seen a reason, since I thought I would only ever have maybe a eighty to ninety contacts– people who were actually friends or family. Of course, now EVERYONE is on there, and I have a really hard time rejecting friend requests, AND  I don’t think I’m alone in seeing Facebook as a sort of virtual Rolodex where you can keep contact information about people, even if you’re not IN CONTACT with them right now, so I needed a way to map this out in a way that worked for me. The problem was my hundreds of “rolodex” contacts were making so much noise on my main news feed that I was missing things from people that I actually wanted to follow more attentively-it was time to subdivide.

photo via Mashable

The first thing I did was create categories based on my actual relationships to these people. It went like this:

Family (immediate)
Family (extended) [I may wind up doing paternal and maternal as well]
Friends, current (this is real-life friends I’m still in regular contact with)
Friends, past (these are real-life friends who I’m no longer in contact with except for through Facebook, and likely wouldn’t be in contact with if not for Facebook)
Aq – High School (aq is my subcategory for acquaintance)
Aq – University  (etc)
Circle-of-friends (people who I am not friends with on a personal level but have many mutual friends and see on a semi-regular basis– strange how this stuff makes you assess relationships)
Co-worker – [job]
Music – friend (I’ve blogged about music for a while and have made contacts across the category as a result, these people aren’t “real-life” friends, but they are people I discuss things with fairly regularly, and are in some ways “co-workers” since most of them are involved in the site)
Music – never met ’em (these are people I’ve come into contact with through the same channels but who are used primarily for the information THEY provide and therefore act more as news channels than an actual back-and-forth relationship)

 and so on for each category.

This was just to get a handle on things. The next step I took was to create categories based on what information people could and couldn’t see. For the most part I put things out there that I really don’t care who sees it, but there’s a couple of things (like address, phone number, etc) that I want to keep personal. It’d be easy enough to not publish it, but let’s face it: a lot of people use Facebook as a phonebook now, so it’s kind of useful to have that information there for the people who you want to have it. Thus, I created the “see everything” category, to be used in my privacy settings– for things such as home phone I allowed only “see everything” the opportunity to see it. The only other category I made to deal with this was “Limited” for people I didn’t want to block, but didn’t want to see all my information, either– this was mostly for people who I don’t personally know but still find useful to have as Facebook contacts.

Finally, I created categories based on news feeds that I would want to read. I have ones for “music”, “technology” etc, but more importantly I have the “feeds I want to follow” category for, well, the people whose news feeds are important, interesting, useful, or entertaining and whose information I don’t want to miss if I don’t look at my account for a week. This is my default view now.

I’ve only had this for a little while, but it’s already made Facebook a far better tool. I no longer miss my sister’s updates from Kenya or information from the roommate we had in China because a whole bunch of rolodex contacts have been taking a quiz, but I don’t have to go through and delete a bunch of people whose posts I like to see SOME of the time, just not ALL of the time. Part of the enjoyment of Facebook is seeing the random posts from random people in your life, but it’s better if that doesn’t overwhelm its ability to enhance real relationships and extend ones that would otherwise die because of limitations placed on them because of distance.

If you need more information about how to organize your own Facebook list (not everyone knows you can do this still), just post below or use the contact info to send an email.

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