One of the delightful things about creating a new web application or service is the way in which end users find unintended ways of utilizing said service. That's a common story we hear from those who've created cutting-edge and disruptive products on the web and something that has become an aspiration of web startups.
An example that springs to mind is the way in which early adopters of Twitter made use of the @ sign, and how Twitter recognised this to evolve to become more than a micro-blogging system into a communications platform.
But Facebook is different. Arrogant even.
Either use the service how its owners intend or you'll be kicked out.
Mike Arrington over at TechCrunch highlights a recent phenomenon whereby Facebook users were adding new friends or even creating new accounts so that they could better compete on a Facebook third-party application/game called PackRat.
A big part of the game is “stealing” cards from friends, and so a lot of users add other users as friends so that their cards can be obtained. The application’s popularity has also led some users to create Facebook accounts for the sole purpose of playing the game.
Facebook, perhaps rightly so, didn't appreciate the 'artificial' use of its sign-up and friends process, and started to pull the plug on new accounts created for the sole purpose of playing the game. This despite the fact that Facebook users playing PackRat are helping to drive up page views and time spent on the site. A 'problem' most web services would welcome.
We're a social utility, not a "social networking site”
An email sent to one user from a Facebook rep explains:
Please note that Facebook accounts are meant for authentic usage only. This means that we expect accounts to reflect mainly “real-world” contacts (i.e. your family, schoolmates, co-workers, etc.), rather than mainly “internet-only” contacts. As stated on our home page, Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you, not a “social networking site”. It is meant to help reinforce pre-existing social connections, not build large groups of new ones.
The distinction between "real-world" contacts and "internet-only" ones is a somewhat grey area in an increasingly connected world. My own Facebook friends list has people in it I only know online, people I've met only once or a few times, as well as people I see quite often, family, old school friends etc. If Facebook wants to kick me out for my disgraceful social networking activity, please (no really, please) do.
See also: Facebook’s neocon links
It's also a distinction that new (and long standing) Facebook users have trouble making. I'm often asked by those who are new to the site (and similar services), just who should I accept as a friend?
Perhaps Facebook should do more to guide users, as LinkedIn currently does. Instead of shutting the door after the horse has bolted.