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Why Facebook’s Find Friends Nearby Has Positive Potential

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Although it has not been officially launched yet, it is available on the Facebook site and has been creating some buzz on sites like the Verge, TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb. I am talking about the newest Facebook app called Find Friends Nearby (working title Friendshake).

 

Some of the buzz revolves around privacy concerns and the words “stalking” and “creepy” have been tossed around. This is very unfortunate because this buzz can overshadow the potential this new app has as a tool to unleash the tipping point phenomenon. The tipping point, explored by Malcolm Gladwell in his book by the same name, is “that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

 

The Connector

 

Facebook itself enables what Gladwell refers to as “Connectors”, one of the key type of person essential to the tipping point concept. Connectors are people who collect and maintain contact with acquaintances. Acquaintances are people you meet who you may see once a month, a year or every few years after the initial meeting. There is a social obligation to these acquaintances that most people shy away from because it is difficult enough maintaining a close group of friends.

 

In his book “The Tipping Point“, Gladwell mentions Roger Horchow as an example of a Connector. Horchow is a very successful businessman from Dallas who enjoys collecting acquaintances and embraces the social obligation (sending a birthday card, remembering an anniversary, having dinner, etc) that comes with these connections. At the time the book was written Horchow maintained a list of 1600 acquaintances and their details on his computer. Connectors are rather rare because most people do not feel that the time and energy involved in this type of activity is not worth it. It is difficult enough keeping in contact with the close group of friends that we already have.

 

Not only does Facebook make life easier for Connectors (imagine how many acquaintances Horchow could collect and maintain if he were using Facebook), but it also makes it possible for people who are not naturally Connectors to act like Connectors through concerted effort.

 

Weak Ties

 

Connectors are important because of the value that acquaintances have in turning buzz into a social epidemic. Acquaintances are what sociologists call a “weak tie” which is basically “a friendly yet casual social connection“. In explaining how Connectors and “weak ties” function, Gladwell cites a 1974 study called “Getting a Job” by Mark Granovetter. Granovetter found that 56 percent of people looking for work found work through personal connections. Of these personal connections, the majority (83.3 percent) of those connections were “weak ties”.

 

Find Friends Nearby

 

According to TechCrunch, Find Friends Nearby app engineer Ryan Patterson commented that “the ideal use case for this product is the one where you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with. Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.”

 

If we are to take Ryan Patterson’s comments at face value, and the app is adopted by users, it will make collecting “weak ties” much easier (and therefore possible for people who are not Connectors).  To use the app, users must be logged into Facebook and the app through a URL. It is an opt-in service so people you are connecting with must agree to having this app find them. Imagine you attend a conference or a short networking event (lunch time presentation) and you want to maintain contact with a number of the people who attend. Since the app has also been released for mobile, it only takes a couple or taps or clicks to accomplish this since all attendees are in the same room or hotel. Better yet, imagine if the conference or event organizers coordinated this sharing by requesting that attendees log in (and opt-in) to the app on their mobile devices, explain the concept and encourage people to connect.

 

Conclusion

 

Find Friends Nearby has the potential to a very useful app in extending Facebook`s role as a tool to facilitate the tipping point phenomenon by making life easier for Connectors. Facebook does have its detractors, and I have been one myself, but not in this case because I see potential in this app. Privacy concerns are unwarranted at this point for one significant reason – people cannot find you without your permission.

 

The app is available at http://fb.com/ffn

 

 NOTE: Passages in quotation marks and italics are from Malcolm Galdwell`s “The Tipping Point“.

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