How can I revolutionize the way I think about and organize my Facebook friends?
September 17, 2011 12:11 AM   Subscribe

How can I revolutionize the way I think about and organize my Facebook friends?

I am not sure if this question will make any sense, but I'll begin with some quick background.

I am super OCD when it comes to keeping my life organized, and I always have a need to make sense of information. So naturally, I really want to find a perfect way to organize my Facebook friends. Sounds simple, right?

I wish. Unfortunately, I have struggled for years to make sense of my Facebook "friends" and to figure out a solution for organizing them (even with the newest lists feature). I realize that I may be overanalyzing and complicating how I should use Facebook, but the truth of the matter is that I am incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed by my "lack of control" on its information overload and I'm looking for a solution that makes sense for me.

During the past 5 years that I've used Facebook, I acquired over 1200 "friends," which include family, real friends and MANY MANY random people that I've crossed paths with at some point or another: childhood friends from other sides of the world who I haven't seen since age 12 (I moved a bunch growing up), old workers from temporary summer jobs, people I met on trips, classmates, roommates, friends of my parents, family friends, teachers, etc... and the list goes on and on.

Now, some people just say that I should erase people I'm not close with. However, I struggle with letting go. First, because I don't want to offend anyone. Second, I just don't know how to "define" my measures/criteria for choosing which friends to remove. But third, it is because I feel like I've invested so much time and energy tracking people and I like having the access to anyone from my past should I want to one day in the future. Also, I really enjoy tracking information in general - in this case connections I make with people throughout life - and I like seeing my "degree of separation" when I friend new people from different parts of the world and see that we have mutual friends.

Anyways, I realize that the best way would be to categorize all my friends into lists. However, I don't know how to come up with a system that truly "organizes" my friends. Facebook provides the following types of magic list ideas:

Close friends
Current City
High School

But I don't feel like these categories truly work - because I don't always know where to place people clearly. For example - where would I put the kids that I used to babysit? Or a really good childhood friend that I no longer keep in touch with? Or a teacher? Or my parents' friends? Or somebody that I met just once? I feel like I have endless categories in my mind, and I know that I can create many lists, but I need to find a way to simplify. One way would to that would be to create an "others" list. However, I want to craft specific categories so that I could have more control in sharing information with specific people.

I also thought about organizing people based on cities. But Facebook allows you to filter people based on their current city, so it seems inefficient.

Anyways, I know I just rambled like crazy. It is late and I really wanted to type this up before I fell asleep. I would sincerely appreciate any insight anyone might have about this.
posted by mrdexterous to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you start getting specific you could wind up with a million categories.
The simplest way to group them would be into two groups: People whose updates, lives and details I want to be up on, and people I'm keeping around for other purposes like a museum of my own past.
posted by bleep at 12:23 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is your goal in categorizing them? If it's to make use of FB's new privacy settings so that you can code your postings to specific people and away from others, I'd start there. Think about what kinds of information you might want to post on FB, and make those the categories. So, for example, I have categories for "work" (anyone who might be interested in industry news links I post), "Local" (people who might want to come to this concert with me next week), and "close friends" (people I might tell when I'm sick because they'd actually come over and bring me kleenex or call to commiserate). Not everyone is in a category, and some people are in more than one. If you're not in those categories, I just figure that the general interest stuff can go to everyone, and if they're not interested, they can block in on their end.

There's no reason to drive yourself crazy over this just because Facebook will let you. Figure out what you want to accomplish, and do the bare minimum to accomplish it.
posted by decathecting at 12:26 AM on September 17, 2011

Who said happy birthday? That is your best indication of the people who only need to see your name to say hello or like something you did.
posted by parmanparman at 2:50 AM on September 17, 2011

I don't think it'd offend people who barely know you: "random people I've crossed paths with" once way back somewhere, for instance.

I like parmanparman's choice of who to delete --- anyone who says happy birthday stays. My own keep/delete decision would be based on who you really know: if all those 1200 people were brought together, anybody you couldn't immediatly name without assistance would be dropped.
posted by easily confused at 3:07 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've got about a dozen lists, that look roughly like this:

Family - old (parents' generation or older)
Family - young (my generation or younger)
[Organization I'm involved with] - [City I used to live in]
[Organization I'm involved with] - [Current city]
[Organization I'm involved with] - [Other]
[Organization I'm involved with] - non-members (people I know via the organization but who are not members of the organization, such as members' spouses)
[Grade school]
[High school]
[Place I hang out a lot]
Online (people I've either never met in person, or knew online quite a while before I ever met them in person)

I'm very active in [organization], so that accounts for about 2/3 of my ~500 Facebook friends, hence the need to subdivide. Even though I don't think I've ever limited an update to just some of the [organization] lists and not others (with the exception of leaving out non-members, very rarely), it's just that I find it awkward to manage exceptionally large lists (e.g., if you're trying to look up someone whose name you don't remember).

A very very small number of people (2 or 3, I think) are in more than one list, such as the relative who is also a member of [organization]. You can put someone in more than one list if you want to.

If I want to friend someone who doesn't fit into one of my current lists, I decide at that point whether to create a new list, or shoehorn them into an existing list. For example, I'm not currently FB friends with any of my parents' friends, but if I did add one, at that point I'd decide whether they also go into "Family - old," or to create a new list. I'd probably choose the former because that's a fairly small list at the moment, and anything I was OK with my parents seeing I'd be OK with their friends seeing too, and it wouldn't bug me that they don't line up perfectly with the list name.

One important note: I base all my privacy settings around whitelisting, not blacklisting. That is, everything (except the few things that are set to either "all friends" or "public") is set to "only the people on the following lists..." and not "all friends except those on the following lists...." The reason being, if I accidentally forget to add someone to any list when friending them, then they will see the minimal amount of information until I add them to a list, whereas with a blacklisting approach they'd see the maximal amount until I added them to a list.

I've had these lists almost as long as I've been on FB—while some of their "new" list features are in fact new, others are just being made more visible than they have been in the past. I haven't yet used the new "close friends" or "acquaintances" lists, and I doubt I will, because I view that as a continuum, not a dichotomy, and I don't see an obvious place to draw a line between the two. Plus I haven't been dividing FB friends along those lines so far—nearly all of my lists have people all over that continuum—and I haven't particularly felt the need to make that distinction. If there's something I truly want to go out to close friends only, I use a private message, not a wall post, and hand-pick the people to send it to. That's infrequent enough that I don't find doing that burdensome.

Anyway, if you don't want to drop friends (you know you can hide them from your news feed without unfriending them, right? But that's not at the core of your question), I'd arrange lists so that most of them are in the range of 50-150 friends. If a list is much over that, think about subdividing. It's OK to have some lists which are much smaller, but only do that for a few key categories—if your first instinct for arranging your 1200 friends is 60 lists of about 20 friends each, give some serious thought to which lists can be combined. (Maybe just "childhood friends," not "friends from the year I lived in Vienna," "friends from the 5 months I lived in Singapore," etc.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:54 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

anyone who says happy birthday stays

If you're going to unfriend people at all, this is a horrible way to do it. Some of the barest of acquaintances will say happy birthday, just because they say happy birthday to everyone. (Guilty as charged, your honor.) And very close friends won't, not because they don't like you enough to wish you a happy birthday, but because not everyone is super-active on FB and some of them might go weeks or months without checking it and not notice it was your birthday.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:58 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to have a million lists, but I gave up and frankly my life is a lot better now... My current breakdown is like this:

I don't want them to see a significant amount of the stuff I post--not because I think they're uninterested but because I actively don't want to share it with them: unfriend.

I really want to hang out with the person and talk to them a lot, I would go out of my way to spend time with them even if I saw them a few days ago: "Friends".

Everyone else: "Everyone Else".

I trust them to see what I post but find their posts to be annoying (guy with a new girlfriend, I'm talking about you): "Friends" or "Everyone Else" but also block from my news feed.
posted by anaelith at 4:13 AM on September 17, 2011

You're treating lists as exclusionary. That's looking at things the wrong way. Look at them inclusively instead. For instance, someone can be on a Friend list and a Work list. People that are on both lists would be your work friends. People on the Friend list and the Family list would family members you like. People on the College, Work and Friend list would be college people you're friends with that you currently work with. Etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:40 AM on September 17, 2011

My Facebook has people in three categories: Friends (people who I would call and arrange to hang out), Annoying people (people whose updates I don't want to see for whatever reason) and everyone else.

I figure if I ever discover a really good reason to know how many people on Facebook I did X with, that's the time when I'll do the work of trawling through and making a list of them.
posted by emilyw at 5:42 AM on September 17, 2011

I have a large number of FB friends myself, and I'd guess I've met 1/4 irl, know another 1/4 from email/online and the rest are a jumble. I don't bother to sort them, because the FB algorithm takes care of that for me--I see the posts of those I interact with most regularly, and if I'm all that curious about someone, I'll look her/him up.
Because I do ask questions about various things pretty often (usually work-related), I'm not going to pare down the list, because I might hit pay-dirt and get a useful answer from someone.
Google+ allows me to sort people into circles, and I've done that for recent projects, interests, and so on, which is more private and useful in some instances.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:33 AM on September 17, 2011

If Facebook is exacerbating your obsessive compulsive disorder, it would likely be better for your own mental health to severely reduce the number of Facebook friends, even if that task is a difficult one. Maybe limit it to family and then to friends that you have actually spoken with in the last 6 months. Another thought is that you could drastically reduce your number of friends, and then see who actually notices enough to try to add you back. It can be tough, and I can understand the notion that you don't want to offend people unnecessary, but it might be for the best.

Also, as trivial as a “Facebook problem” might seem, you could relay this to your doctor. I friend of mine was being treated for OCD with limited success, but some slight adjustments to the medication he was taking actually worked wonders and reduced the amount of stress caused by his OCD significantly. Good luck!
posted by Nightman at 11:27 AM on September 17, 2011

A reverse of parmanparman's bday rule...
Would YOU write happy birthday on their wall?
When people come up on the birthday list, if you don't feel like writing, defriend them.
posted by k8t at 1:12 PM on September 17, 2011

I like parmanparman's choice of who to delete --- anyone who says happy birthday stays

YMMV. As part of my morning routine I post Happy Birthday on all the birthday peoples' walls, even if I don't really know them.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2011

I became happier with facebook and felt a lot less creepy when I hid the feeds of every person I haven't seen in more than a year (except for a few flukes and family members) and stopped surveilling their day-to-day lives. If I wasn't concerned about how open my own profile was, this would suffice, but I created a category called "out of touch otherwise" for people that I would expect to literally never hear from or see again if it weren't for Facebook. These people are also hidden and additionally cannot see my wall/status posts by default for privacy's sake. I can still look people up when I think of them (and I do, regularly) because we're still FB friends, and they can still do the same for me and find out most major pieces of information (new job, new relationship, etc.) or contact me even though they can't read my every status update.

So three categories (see in real life, keeping in touch, and out of touch) updated annually makes Facebook better resemble the rest of my social life without too much offense, maintenance, categorization, or deletion. This system has ported well between Facebook site overhauls to date, as well.
posted by zizania at 1:13 PM on September 18, 2011

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