EghtesadOnline: It's been a few months since Mark Zuckerberg decided that Facebook's new mission would be to "bring people closer together." The product teams are working hard to respond to his call to produce "meaningful interactions" between users. So far, the results are awkward.
Last weekend, a friend showed me a notification on his Facebook app, saying that 26 people "may want to meet up" with him this week. He clicked into it and it displayed the profile pictures of 17 of his friends, with the tantalizing promise that one of them had already said yes. (One of them happened to be his live-in girlfriend, who was already hanging out with him, had never seen this feature and was just as amused.) He could select the profile pictures of people he wanted to see —and if they wanted to see him back, a Messenger chat would automatically fire up, setting off the planning for whatever rendezvous was supposed to occur.
"Answer honestly," Facebook prompted. "Respond without social pressure." It was like a dating app, but for people you already know.
A week earlier, according to Bloomberg, another friend sent me a screenshot of a prompt at the top of her news feed. "It looks like you have event coming up," it said, telling her she could change her response to "Going" if she wanted to. "We can show you how."
Both recipients of these prompts marveled at the sudden, awkward hand holding. Does Facebook think we're not hanging out enough with our friends? After almost a decade using the product, with all the data they already have on our activity, does Facebook really think we don't know how to change our event RSVPs?
For any new initiative, Facebook tends to try out many different possible products in the wild, refining them based on data and feedback. When I asked Facebook about the friend meetup feature, they said it's merely a "small test." Some ideas will work out and spread out to all users, some won't.
While most people can agree that more friendship is a good thing, it's also very personal. As much as it sees your interactions, Facebook doesn't know all the context of your relationships and the reasons for their depth, or lack thereof. And if it becomes too prescriptive or parental about how we should interact with one another, there's a risk that the new efforts could backfire.
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