An Evolving Cultural Curiosity: We Need A Fake Follow

I’m going to take some criticism for this, but I think it’s something that needs to be said: We need a Fake Follow on Twitter and a related Fake Subscribe on FriendFeed.

FriendFeed and Twitter are different than normal social networks because they don’t require two people to mutually agree to become friends. Instead, you simply choose to follow someone and see the content they produce. That person is notified that you are following them, and can choose to reciprocate or not.

So far, so good. The idea is that you shouldn’t be pressured into following/subscribing to another person just so that they can read your content. The entire point is to reduce the stress to reciprocate friendship unless you actually want to.

And for the most part it works. But there are a lot of people who for some reason are greatly offended when you don’t reciprocate a follow/subscribe on Twitter or FriendFeed. When this happens (and it happens a lot), you have a choice – deal with the fallout (“that guy is such a jerk”) or just friend the person and avoid the pain.

Here’s the problem, though. When you follow too many people the service just becomes unusable. On Twitter I follow just 466 people that I find interesting, but the content stream is far too much to consume. On Friendfeed the problem is even worse because it aggregates so much other content (Flickr, Twitter, Delicious, blogs, etc.).

On Twitter I generally only monitor messages specifically directed at me (@techcrunch must be in the message), and I sort of peruse Friendfeed a few times a day to find interesting stuff. But what I really want to do is have a core group of friends that I watch.

That means Twitter and FriendFeed need to let me group friends somehow and let me watch just some of them if I like. Or a simpler approach: give me a Fake Follow.

The Fake Follow looks like a normal follow to the other person, but to me it’s like I didn’t follow them at all. This solves the ego stroking issue (and related problems) that so many people have, and it keeps the content stream clean and usable.

Eventually we’ll evolve online culture to the point where people adapt to these new systems (just like today people aren’t usually offended when an instant message isn’t returned, well, instantly). But until then we need to find a way to keep things under control, and anger at a minimum. And since Twitter and FriendFeed will become far more usable with it, it’s in their best interests to adopt it.

I asked Evan Williams at Twitter about this a few weeks ago and he said they may adopt different friend types to deal with the problem. FriendFeed cofounder Paul Bucheit says they are releasing new features in the coming weeks that will “make it easier to separate the people who you really want to follow from the rest.” They may not call it a Fake Follow, but we’ll all nod and wink when the features roll out. Thanks in advance, Paul.