Facebook’s Impending Crackdown on Multiple Accounts
Many of us maintain “spam accounts” for the emails we want to sequester from our primary email account. Some of us keep our work email accounts separate, too, to avoid being on call 24/7.
More and more, people are also creating multiple accounts on Facebook — one account for friendly acquaintances and the random people who friended you for no reason, and another for a more intimate group of friends or relatives. And while creating multiple accounts doesn’t really bother Google's Gmail team, it does irk Facebook. The social networking giant is reportedly planning a big crackdown on duplicate accounts.
What's behind the crackdown? Facebook is concerned about how duplicate accounts will negatively impact their advertising efforts. That's fair enough. And Facebook should certainly do everything it can to shut down accounts created by scammers and spammers. But Facebook should be even more concerned with the user experience problems that are driving legitimate users to create duplicate accounts.
Friend Lists: Too Little Too Late
One of the user experience problems that drove some people to create a second account is Facebook’s “Friend Lists” feature, which Facebook re-launched in response to Google+ and its “Circles” feature a year ago. This feature includes a button below your status updates that lets you control which friends can see your updates.
Unfortunately, Friend Lists are still a pain to use. If you’re like me and have been using Facebook since college, you probably have close to a thousand Facebook friends. And, unless someone shoves Adderall down your throat and locks you in a room with a computer that can only access Facebook, you’re probably not going to take the time to painstakingly divide those one thousand friends into different lists.
By the time Friend Lists were re-introduced last year, it was too late. Most long-time users don't want to rethink the way they engage with the platform. Facebook should have promoted Friend Lists years ago when they created the feature. Instead, they let it linger in the Kafkaesque world of Facebook’s admin controls.
Even if you try to use Friend Lists now, you’ll probably give up fast. It’s full of annoying quirks, such as notifying you every time someone on your “Close Friends” list posts a status update. Sorry, Facebook, but I don’t really want 47 notifications every day. Friend Lists also just aren’t very useful. When creating an event, you can’t simply invite a list; you still have to manually select every single person you want to invite.
Playing Games & Playing the Field
Another reason that people create duplicate accounts: for game and dating apps. It would be great if Facebook games came with an Options menu that allowed us to turn off posts. But as long as we continue to get those “Play Something” nudges and notifications every time we go up a level, gamers are going to be inclined to want to keep their personal life and gaming life separate.
After all, no Farmville addict wants their boss to know how much time they spend watering their crops. No Spotify user wants their friends to know that they secretly dig the new Justin Bieber album. And very few frequenters of apps such as “Are You Interested?” want their colleagues or relatives to see how often they interact with other singles online.
If Zuckerberg is smart — and he usually is — he'll limit the crackdown to shady business practices and let normal users keep multiple accounts, at least until there’s a better system for lists and more protection against frictionless sharing. It just doesn't seem like a great idea to penalize people who like your service so much they're willing to create more than one account. After all, this move isn't going to make the challenge of driving revenue from display ads disappear, but it could seriously upset many loyal users.