If you could rebuild Facebook, what would you change?

An article today in the Mashable Blog had me thinking about Facebook and social networking in general. Before I continue with this article, disclaimer: I have interviewed with Facebook for a position in the past and I am partly responsible for Facebook’s biggest PR disaster, the Students Against Facebook News Feed Controversy.

The article, if you don’t care to read it, is basically reaction to a very surprising Mashable poll where over 75% of respondents were, in some way, fed up or annoyed with Facebook as it currently stands. I’ve heard complaints from people stating that profile pages are too cluttered (though a profile redesign addresses this problem) to applications are useless to restrictions on both users an developers are not adequately balanced.

People in the blogosphere have compared Facebook to the next AOL (they once had a great business model and all the momentum and then poof!) or the next Myspace (spammy and losing usefulness). Though I think a lot of these comparisons are unfair and unfounded, there’s a reason these comparisons are appearing in the first place. Expectations for Facebook are lofty. It has been collecting the best talent of Silicon Valley, including former top Google Engineer Ben Ling, former VP of Online Sales Sheryl Sandberg, and most recently, former Google VP for Public Relations Elliot Schrage, drawing comparisons as “the next Google.”

That’s a lot of damn comparisons.

So I thought I’d go through a brain exercise: If you could dismantle Facebook and rebuild it, what would you do? Yes, I’m basically asking you to envision a new social network, but go from the basis of Facebook’s goal: to create a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers and to facilitate the sharing of information through the social graph (aka the digital mapping of people’s real-world social connections)

Here’s some of my initial thoughts. I’ll write a more complete post with more complete ideas:

  • Make it tougher from the start to create “spammy” Facebook applications. There needed to be fewer, higher quality applications or a better way to weed them out. A lot of users are now trained to just click “ignore.” I don’t know how you can untrain people: changing habits is one of the most difficult things to do in business.
  • Divide it more into two uses: personal and business. The business social network LinkedIn is on a roll and gaining traction. There’s a ton of opportunity in this area still. Facebook friend lists weren’t enough (though I appreciate it very, very much); there needed to be a business networking system in place (and still needs to be).
  • On Friend Lists, I wish I had had the option of separating my friends into “degrees of friends”. Some are far closer than others: I wish I could choose that at the start. That would allow me to organize how I interaction multiple levels. I could only Facebook chat with my First and Second degree contacts, for example.
  • True email from the social network. Integrate receiving your gmail or other emails into a well-developed email system until it became more robust. If you could link emails to people, you could know more about your history with them.
  • Tracking of your history with an individual. I’d love to know when I became friends with a person, what we have done, and where we may continue to connect. (a Fb application probably already does this, matching interests, but see my first point on what has happened to apps.)

Damn, I need to think about this some more. I sure as hell can’t build a social network (yet: there’s a reason I’m learning PHP programming after all), but I sure as hell can design, promote, and operate one.

Maybe I’ll just do that.
Expect another post in a few days. In the meantime, Go visit my new blog on the recession.

– Ben