Facebook: “It’s okay to spam your friends”

“It’s okay to spam your friends” may not be the company’s official strapline, but it certainly seems to be a key part of Facebook that spamming your friends with everything you’re doing is the way to stay “in touch”.

It’s a fine line to tread, however, and the recent additions to the newsfeed seem to be taking the site into a dangerous zone. On the one hand, the newsfeed does allow people to see what their friends are doing without having to put much effort in, and allows for all kinds of serendipitous discoveries. (“What an interesting group, I think I’ll join!” and “I didn’t realise you were interested in…”)

On the other hand, it can easily turn people off if the relevancy drops off and the volume becomes overwhelming. “5 of your friends received Funwall posts” is of no interest to me and although I can “vote down” the relevancy, I’m sure there’ll be some new fad next month that five of my friends will all happen to do at the same time and I’ll have to vote it down again.

The encouragement to spam is no more active than with application design. In fact: the viral nature of application growth, almost by definition, encourages spamming of friends as a way of surviving and spreading. “Invite 10 friends to unlock new gifts” and the like are usually enough encouragement, and somehow the “ethos” of Facebook means most of us have little compunction in at least spamming those closer friends. After all: they can always click on the “ignore” button.

We’ve experimented with the principle ourslves. Applications such as Which Dessert Are You? give the user a very basic reward for inviting their friends and that, in itself, seems to be enough to spread the application. The content, and usefulness, are both close to non-existent, yet the app is spreading at the rate of thousands per day.

It’s a simple equation: if each person manages to spread your application to more than one person it will grow. If it’s less than one, it won’t. On the plus side (from a commercial point of view) it’s a great environment to spread brand awareness by capitalising on the currently acceptable face of spam, but on the other it’s a challenge for Facebook to keep these invites and newsfeed messages enough on the side of useful (compared to annoying) for us to put up with it.

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