Joshua Porter has a lengthy piece predicting relationship asymmetry in Facebook. Joshua writes:
I predict Facebook will soon go fully asymmetric, allowing all users of the system (not just celebrities or companies) to have “follower” relationships that don’t require reciprocation. I believe they will once again follow in Twitter’s footsteps and people will be able to have follower lists that are much bigger than the number of people they follow.
I don’t know how they’ll do this, my guess is they’ll attempt to keep both systems intact. They’ll keep the friends designation for symmetric relationships, but also add another asymmetric capability. It would probably be best to use the term “follow” for this, but they may continue to keep the term “fan”, even though being a fan of another individual sounds a bit silly…the term “follower” is better.
Facebook will announce this publicly in their common way, by saying their goal is to help you connect to your friends and family better. They’ll say they’ve realized that there are many relationships that aren’t as strong as mutual friends but are nonetheless important…and therefore they’ve hit upon this wonderful new functionality for you…and they’ll somehow recast it as “Open” in some way…and blah blah blah. Pundits will point out how they’re copying Twitter. Robert Scoble will say it’s brilliant and remind us Zuck just doesn’t care what people think. Users will revolt by creating a “Facebook Users Against Fan Designation” group and it will quickly grow to 1 million members. The actual design of the system will hardly come up. Ev Williams will probably tweet something completely unrelated. You know. The usual.
The real reasons why Facebook will go asymmetric are reach (growth) and data.
Facebook will grow their service by allowing people to accrue attention in a way they can’t currently in the system. People will realize the same benefits they currently do on Twitter…you can actually start to have an audience that is larger than your current friends list. In other words, this will allow members of Facebook to have a much larger reach than they could before…thus giving Facebook a larger reach as well. This will be the next big growth spurt for Facebook, who has executed so well on almost everything they’ve done so far…but at the present moment the structure of the system prevents this from happening.
In short, Facebook will improve the ability of its members to accrue social capital within the system. And, if you aren’t familiar with this notion, check out Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, which lays out in excellent detail why social capital is the wealth of networks. He also describes the way humans have trouble with exchanging social capital with economic capital. (this exchange is the nut Facebook and other social networks are trying to crack)