The last time Facebook updated the stats in their press room, the average Facebook user had 130 friends. I'll wager that that number is skewed down by older folks and people who have abandoned their accounts - for the active user the number must be higher. I've got over 400, myself, but I regularly see people that dwarf that number. It's become de rigeur to accept most friend requests - on Facebook I can hardly bring myself to turn anybody down. Even if I started now, what would the point be? My Facebook friends already include people that:
I went to junior high school with and never saw again
I had one class with in college
Were in my unit in the military but assigned to a different company
Colleagues and former colleagues, including bosses and subordinates
For me, that enormous diversity of friends completely paralyzes me. I'll never post anything on Facebook that's political or contentious, or even something funny but of questionable taste (as it happens, much of the things I find funny are of questionable taste). Sometimes it's for fear of offending someone in my network but often it's simply because, frankly I don't really give a damn about what most of the people in my network think.
When Facebook announced Groups last year, I thought they had finally licked this problem by allowing you to create discrete groups who would be granted varying levels of access to your wall - this was not the case.
I could address this paralysis by just having a massive cull, but I don't really feel compelled to - I already have a small social network populated only by close friends where lively discussions of links take place every day: Google Reader.* Reader works because there's only about 30 people in my network - my closest friends - and I have no intention of letting it grow much bigger. Unlike Facebook, I am stone cold ruthless in turning down Google Reader sharing requests and that's what makes Reader great for me.
It doesn't matter what the network is (a lot of pundit's scoffed at Path's maximum network size of 50, but I found it intruiging) - but to maintain a lot of high-quality discussions and a minimum of drama, it has to be small and very selective. If you do go to a new network you'll have the onerous task of bringing your friends with you, but it will absolutely be worth it.
Facebook and marketers (like me) don't want you to have smaller social networks - look at how Facebook is constantly encouraging you to add people using their Friend Finder tool. Smaller networks make it tougher for us to exploit the network effect to our advantage. But don't worry about me. Kill your big social network and find a more rewarding social networking experience.
It's impossible to imagine a publisher who wouldn't want several thousand impressions to add to their inventory on the back of some content that was bought and paid for eight years ago. Aggregators and curators like reddit make this sort of content necromancy fairly commonplace. By hiding behind their paywall The Times have only insulated themselves from little windfalls like this one.
I run UK & EMEA digital strategy for Cohn & Wolfe during the day, and I make iPhone games with Hard Six Games in my spare time. Nothing you read here is the perspective of Cohn & Wolfe or any of its clients. You can email me at fdrizo at gmail dot com.