Dear FB, Twitter – We want narrowcasting, not just broadcasting!

Earlier this week, I wanted to send a Facebook message to my dancer friends in the Bay Area  to invite them to a local event.  I ended up manually sifting through my entire friends list, since there’s no way to invite or message an intersection of friends.  Similarly, I wanted to post a twitter note to my Google buddies in a particular geographic region, but Twitter doesn’t support any sort of useful narrowcasting, either.

Basically, social service nowadays seem hellbent on having us share our lives and connect with more and more people.  I don’t want that, and I’m betting a lot of you feel the same way:  we want to deepen our relationships with our current friends, share details of our lives with the friends who are most likely interested in those particular details, and so on.

A lot of the brouhaha over FBs aggressive more-sharing push has been over privacy, but in the rush to protest “ZOMG, I don’t want my mom to know THAT!” the complementary concerns of narrowcasting have been largely ignored.  I’m personally a lot less worried about someone finding out something I don’t want them to know about, and far more concerned about burning out my friends with info they find irrelevant and uninteresting.

Is it not madness that I can’t post a note joking about a local politician just to my Mountain View  friends?  This highlights one of a great many situations in which there are no privacy issues (I’m not trying to keep my bad sense of humor a secret from my friends in Europe), but rather that my friends outside MV aren’t likely to care about this topic.  And worse yet, these friends will likely stop reading my posts altogether unless I either post less overall (a bummer!) or magically somehow write entries that are appealing and relevant across my diverse group of friends (pretty impossible).

*  *  *
I think I speak for most of us non-hermit’y types in noting that:

  • Our sphere of acquaintances and friends is growing at an astonishing rate… due to the awesome people we meet online, at work, via friends, from family members, etc.
  • We have an innate desire to stay in touch with many of these folks and to share interesting and relevant stuff with them.
  • Relationships are not symmetrical, nor are the related communications desires!  I may hang on the every brilliant and witty word of a friend, but she may be, um, less fascinated with my mutterings (while still wanting to keep in touch with me overall)
  • There should be easier ways for us to finetune who (and what groups) we share with and who we hear from… beyond the scope of privacy considerations.
    • For instance, it’d be awesome to be able to tell our computer: “I want to share this musing with my friends who love hiking and are within 20 miles of Mountain View” or, conversely, “Highlight messages from friends who live nearby me and aren’t talking about politics.”

But alas, services like Facebook seem to be lately more concerned about giving people a megaphone than letting them share and filter more effectively.  They’re amplifying and extending the noise, which from what I gather, is more likely to alienate people than have them maintain Facebook as part of their daily routine.  And that’s a shame.

*  *  *

What do you think?
– Do you share my interests in narrowcasting?
– Or do I have an unusually large addressbook and/or overly geeky demands re: sharing and filtering?
– Are you familiar with any services that are helping folks connect more deeply vs. broadly?




37 responses to “Dear FB, Twitter – We want narrowcasting, not just broadcasting!”

  1. simone Avatar

    i first noticed a similar need while using friendfeed. I wanted my feed streams to be subject oriented, since I already knew that i would not follow a whole feed by someone else about too many things i don’t care about, example: things i will never see in my life, the pubs where they are hanging out, their horse riding reviews, etc.

    another thing is that most of the times i don’t really care about “on what” people are speaking, i prefer “how” they speak about things that they like or they are passionate about. maybe narrowfiltering would make me lose some interesting things 🙂

    doing it in the right way could be a very nice development in social media.

  2. Claudia Petrilli Avatar
    Claudia Petrilli

    Very interesting post.  I have to say though that I enjoy all your posts no matter what they’re about. They always put a smile on my face 🙂

    Here’s what I think: – Do you share my interests in narrowcasting?

    I do.  I think that if it can be done, it’ll be great.  I have many different circles of friends (and family) and I am often concerned about spamming them with all the Swing stuff I do for the school.  I doubt very much that my grandmother in Colombia needs to know about the latest workshop I am organizing 😛

    – Or do I have an unusually large addressbook and/or overly geeky demands re: sharing and filtering?

    I don’t think so.  It is a very valid concern. – Are you familiar with any services that are helping folks connect more deeply vs. broadly?

    No, but if you hear of one, please let me know.


  3. AnnieE Avatar

    Amen Adam!  You listed the exact reasons why I hesitate before posting.  Narrowcasting would make all the difference!

  4. Steve Avatar

    Thanks for the post Adam.  I just came up with a plan for a site that will allow just that.  I don’t know if I can compete with the likes of Twitter, but with a lot of work and a little luck, I may be able to do something. <0_o>

    Now to go find someone to code this thing!


  5. Rocky Avatar

    Totally agree.

    Especially with the launch of FourSquare / Tripit / and other spammish type applications.

    I don’t want all of my friends to have to sift through that stuff if they don’t find it interesting.

    Also applies at events like SXSW. I don’t want my streams flooded with people live tweeting (which I despise in general) events. Pay attention to the f**king speakers you inconsiderate a**holes.

  6. Chris Avatar

    Did you know you can make a friends list with any heading you want?

    I know what you mean about not being able to use their software to filter through your friends list and sort them out into groups, but I filter one group of my friends as Canadians (my wife is Canadian and we used to live there), and I just add any new Canadian friends to that friends list when I “acquire” a new friend.

    I did the same with an organisation I am connected to, so I could email that whole group.

    So, manually you can still send a message that way, but I don’t think you can filter the privacy to just a certain group of friends, so your Wall isn’t seen by everyone.

    My Canadian friends list shows up as a menu item on the left hand side so I can just see what my friends in Canada are saying.

    Still needs some work though, I agree. 🙂

    Chris in Scotland

  7. Steve Avatar

    @ chris – But you cannot just post to those people’s walls, right?

  8. Chris Avatar

    @steve Actually, you can. With the new privacy settings FB put in, you can clck on the padlock beside your post and choose who can see that post.

    So, if you have sorted your friends into countries, or family or whatever you can just post to that group of people and they are the only ones who see it.

    However, I don’t know whether it WILL show up on your friends’ wall or not. For me that seems to be a mystery which of my friends’posts I see automatically on my feed. I suppose I should just filter that application to only feed the closest friends I care about seeing their day-to-day nonsense… I’ll check on that.

    Anyway, I hope that was useful. lol

  9. Steve Avatar

    @chris, I see what you mean.  It is a bit cumbersome though, and not as refined a system as what Adam described wanting. Thanks for the clarification though, that was feature I didn’t know about. lol

  10. Rolf Avatar

    One would think that features as Adam describes should be pretty obvious. But you’re right, it’s near impossible to use Facebook for a ‘targeted’ message.

    A few filters should not be that difficult to construct? Maybe your post and our reaction here will be the trigger for these services to provide what we wish?

    I’ll need to check the new feature Chris mentions, haven’t even noticed that I could use that…

  11. Steve Avatar

    Okay, I talked it over with my better half, and I am going to launch a program that I think will do what you are talking about.  Will it go anywhere?  Who knows, but crazier things have happened.  The idea sounds good in my head.  I have a coder working on it, so… prepare for a “buzz conduit”. lol 🙂

    Wish me luck!


  12. detectives privados Avatar

    hey man, i totally agree with AnnieE. And Steve, actually you can post in people’s walls 😉


  13. Steve Avatar

    I understand that you can post to people’s walls, but a bunch of people’s walls?  How about only those people that live in your area that are interested in live Jazz with a single post?  Isn’t that what Adam is talking about?

  14. Patricia Muller Avatar

    Very good points, Adam.

    I think people’s needs vary and, in that respect, Facebook should have a broader range of functionalities to accommodate this diversity.

    Think about someone like Darren Rowse. Broadasting to a large number of people is something that works in his advantage. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t benefit from what you’re talking about too (in fact, he probably would), but since his business is marketed through himself as an individual, broadcasting works.

    On the flip side, most people on Facebook probably face the same dilemma you’re describing. I know I do – and in my case, not only am I broadcasting to different groups of people with different interests, but my family and friends speak different languages. So I know that every time I choose to post something in Portuguese, I’m completely alienating all my English speaking contacts (and vice-versa, although most of my friends who have Portuguese as first language also understand English, which is why I’ve chosen to post primarily in English). And I also cross-post from Twitter to Facebook all the time, so there’s an extra layer of concern there (although this is a problem I create for myself and has nothing to do with Facebook). But bottom line is, we end up having to filter the information we’re broadcasting when, in reality, filtering users who receive the information would be much, much smarter.

    There are times when the message is of general interest, but for the most part they are not. I am completely passionate about cosmetics and perfumes, for instance, and every time there’s a good sale or a good enough coupon going on, I like to post it for some of my friends who share the same interest and absolutely love getting the information. Imay doubt, however, that that information is of ANY relevance to YOU, for example (unless be it happens to be Valentine’s Day and you can use that to buy a really nice gift for a woman in your life. ;-)). But for the most part, this just adds noise to people’s streams.

    All of my contacts are sorted into friends lists, which makes it easy for me to filter the content I’m receiving, but the noise is inevitable even when you do it that way. And personally, I think selecting who can see your update AFTER it’s been posted is just plain lame. It’s like being in a conversation, saying something then taking it back – because by the time you make that selection, people who are online and checking their streams might have already seen it.

    So yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you that we should at the very least have this option and it should be smart, simple and intuitive. I’m not sure this is in their best interest however: the more people you broadcast to, the bigger the audience for ads. I honestly doubt no one on the Facebook has thought of this type of functionality…

  15. Francis Parent Avatar


    I totally agree with you narrowcasting should be a built-in feature of Social Network site I really believe we can make a difference in the future of social networking as a user 🙂

    For now let’s go broad …

  16. Matt Avatar

    Hi Adam

    You are 100% correct. There is a gap in the way
    you can select portions of contacts.
    It needs to have a function similar in emails(gmail) so you can select groups and then modify them even easier. Its all in the name of saving time….


    Ps, will be interesting to see what BUZZ implements for this common hurdle.

  17. Steve Avatar

    @Matt – I think we have figured it out.  I don’t want to SPAM Adam’s blog post, so I will not go into details here, but I will suffice it to say that I think social networking is getting to a point where there is an almost overwhelming sense of noise.  I think the ability to easily “narrowcast” to people who are actually interested in what’s being posted has got to become the next evolution of social networking.  My research is telling me that there are quite a few people that agree.

  18. Caitlin Avatar

    You can “narrowcast on FB” although it’s not as easy as it should be, such as creating a friend list (which only became available after you’ve had almost a thousand friends!), choosing the list after uploading content, and tagging specific individuals. Again, it should be easy like other stuff available for broadcasting!

  19. Dennis Avatar

    Fine-tuning is a good idea. However, I really dont see the problem with all this – I think you worry too much. Because there’s always gonna be some people, whether close friends or distant acquaintances, that will find this or that comment of yours irrelevant or uninteresting. So what? Why not let THEM pick and fine-tune? Its like with a forum, you could go into a thread that doesnt tickle your fancy and complain about such a non-sensical thread or you could just brush right over it, onto a thread that actually interests you.

  20. Chris Avatar

    It is needed both ways… I can filter out someone’s comments or posts or dumb-pet/city/family they are taking care of, but again, it could be better.

  21. Jack Avatar

    I a big on narrowcasting i think narrowcasting can benefit the smaller blogger as well. email newsletters are probably the best example of a narrowcast because a channel not accessible by everyone. These channels provide you with extra monetization potential.

  22. BTN Marts Avatar

    I am beginning stage user of FB, Twitter. Your idea is so good. If we have narrow casting that will helpful for us. I will try to find out more. If I got any wonderful idea, I will come again and share with you.

  23. Acuvue Avatar

    Well, that’s a rather original term “narrowcasting”! And I totally agree with it – it’s vital today for social networking sites to have it with the clutter and informatiom glut out there. Best term I’ve heard since “prosumer” 🙂

  24. Jillian Avatar

    Good point, Adam. I have only been using Facebook for a couple of months and just when I think I’ve mastered it, they change things! As they are still a young service, they are learning as they go and making changes. I hope they take note of suggestions like yours and continue to develop and enhance their site.

    I really like a lot of the Facebook features. I learned to make several lists and that helps. But it could be less cumbersome.

  25. cheryl cassidy Avatar

    I hope they will improve Facebook as time goes along. I like the idea of it and am enjoying meeting old friends. I hope as time goes on i will have enough friends to make narrowcasting a problem!!

  26. Bob Avatar

    “I hope they will improve Facebook as time goes along. I like the idea of it and am enjoying meeting old friends. I hope as time goes on i will have enough friends to make narrowcasting a problem!!”

    I agree full with you

  27. John Avatar

    Yeah, its hard to narrow down the selection in facebook and other social networking sites. If facebook would have introduced separate folders like ‘Office Collegues’, ‘College Folks’, ‘School Friends’ etc etc then it will be much easier to send message or socialize with a particular circle of friends. Hope they will do something soon…

  28. ThatAdamGuy Avatar

    Okay, time for some long-overdue replies to your thoughtful notes 🙂

    Simone, are you still using Friendfeed? Even before Google Buzz about, my use was wavering; I found too much noise, and even with much good content, it just took too much of my day to get through :(. And yeah, exactly what you said… I found myself wanting to know more *how* my friends were doing rather than what they were thinking about or discovering on the web.

    Claudia, you always make me smile, too, and I have consistently appreciated your thoughtful comments here on my blog and elsewhere :-).

    Did you ever figure out a way to “narrowcast”? If not, how have you balanced your interest in communicating dance stuff with not annoying/boring non-dance friends?

    I haven’t come up with a good solution yet myself; one hack I’ve tried is to categorize all my friends contact records in Gmail (a painfully slow process, adding them to Groups), and then posting buzzes to one or more of those groups. This is nice in that the messages aren’t shoved into my friends’ inboxes, but rather are there to read when they want. But on the downside, few of my friends actively use Buzz. Heck, even I barely use Buzz anymore (just no time, too much noise, etc.)

    AnnieE and others, I’m glad I’m not the only one frustrated by this!!!

    Steve, have you found someone to code your idea? 😉

    Rocky, agree 100%. It’s amazing how short our attendion spans have gotten in this “Attention Economy.” And shocking, too, how many of us (yes, even me sometimes) rudely try to multitask when we should be giving our full attention to SOMETHING… a friend, a speaker, etc. Oh, and I hate live-twittering. At least with live blogging / live waving, there’s ONE conversation you can go visit vs. an annoying smattering of teeny blip-thoughts cascading into the stream.

    Chris, yep, I’ve done the same thing… but as you noted, you can MESSAGE people, but (as Steve noted) I don’t believe you can place a note into their newsfeed. The former pains me, because I HATE FB messaging with a passion, and I also don’t want to push a message onto friends… I want it to be just something they can read when they want.

    OH WAIT! Chris… not sure if this has changed, but holy mother o’ dog, it looks like you can now post to friend-groups. You have to click on the padlock, and then click on “only certain people” (maybe I just missed this before) and then type in a list or lists. HURRAY!!!

    So Patricia Muller, does this do the trick for you, particularly broadcasting to friends in different languages?

    Matt, re: buzz… you can post to a list or a set of lists, but oddly and frustratingly, not to a set of people unless you *already* have them in a list.

    Dennis, interesting point that I may just be worrying too much. Broadcast and others can sort it out on their end. Who knows, my non-dancing friends may actually enjoy my lindy’ing blatherings from time to time, eh? 🙂

    And yeah, on a related note, Chris, you’re right; it’d be nice to have strong and easy-to-use tools to do filtering on both the sending and receiving ends.

    Acuvue, I don’t recall if I actually invented the term “narrowcasting” or not. Probably not, though, so I shouldn’t take credit for it 🙂

    Jillian, now that you’ve been using FB for a bit longer, are you finding the controls (for broadcasting and reading) powerful/useful enough?

  29. Steve Schafer Avatar

    Hi Adam. Nice new look, BTW. I had someone working on it, and he decided that not only would he not finish it, but would not issue a refund either. I don’t think I would have really had the funding to be able to properly promote it anyway – not at the level needed to take on the mighty T. It looks like the project, at least for me, is dead. 🙁

  30. Steve Schafer Avatar

    Thanks Adam. Only lost my $200 deposit, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that big a deal. I did lose about 40 or 50 hours though. The good news is that for the next several months I have an extra domain to use as a test platform for my design and SEO clients. 🙂

  31. Chris Avatar

    That’s too bad it didn’t work out. 🙁

  32. Jillian Avatar

    Hi Adam – just stopped by tonight and WOW- what a big change for your blog! It looks very nice.

    I have been using Facebook and I do like many of the features, but it is frustrating, as well. I am not finding the controls to be very useful and I don’t like Facebook deciding which updates should appear on my page/wall. I tried to broadcast to a limited groupd and FB would not let me. It is far better than MySpace but I’m hoping to see a lot of improvements.

  33. ThatAdamGuy Avatar

    Hey Jillian, very happy you came along to the new bladam home, and thanks for the kind words.

    A couple of ideas that may make FB more useful and pleasant for you:
    – If you click on “Friends” on the lefthand menu, you’ll get some helpful options. And if you create a friends list (I made one for close friends), then any time you click on the link for that view, you’ll see 100% of updates from those friends, and in chronological order :).
    – I do think it’s now possible to broadcast to a limited group now. Click on the little padlock icon when you’re making an update, then select “Custom” then “Specific people” and then you can add either people or lists to see your message. It’s a bit convoluted, but still at least useful/powerful IMHO.

    Hope that helps!

  34. Jillian Avatar

    Hi again. I tried to send a private FB email to one of my lists but it failed. The error message said that I can only send an email to max 20 people at one time. *Bangs head on table*

  35. ThatAdamGuy Avatar

    Hey Jillian, you should at least be able to put a message in their newsfeed 🙂 (I did this for a several-hundred-friend list of mine)

  36. Jonas Avatar

    Narrowcasting also means giving up more privacy, so that social services may know even more about you. More specifically, where you are, at all times.

    It’s almost there, with Latitude, and similar services, but the precursor to narrowcasting is less privacy.

  37. ThatAdamGuy Avatar

    Hi Jonas, nice to re-see you 🙂 But alas, you’ve lost me here. I’m not understanding how you see the tie between narrowcasting (broadcasting a message to a narrow group of people, e.g., friends in Boston, church friends, family members, etc.) and location. The two are not correlated in any reliable way.

    I’m similarly confused re: your connection of narrowcasting and privacy. If anything, I’d think narrowcasting would help protect one’s privacy; you are, after all, sending a message to a limited group of people instead of a broader group. Does Facebook get to know that I have chosen to send a swing dancing video to my swing dance friends? Yes. But even so, I’m not sure how Facebook’s acquisition of this knowledge impinges upon my privacy either.

What do you think?