Follow vs. Friend Model Clashes

I’m not a big user of location-based social networks, but I’ve used Brightkite a bit in the past and I used both Gowalla and Foursquare a bit at SxSWi this past year. I’m now dormant on all of these, but I get daily friend requests on them from people I don’t know. I believe this is due to a mis-match between the friend and follow models of various social networks.

For example, Twitter uses the follow (micro-blogging) model. This model is very open, allowing anyone to follow anyone else’s updates, as long as that person’s updates are publicly shown. This results in mobs of followers to various celebrities, etc. and has interesting effects. It’s certainly helped Twitter’s growth.

The location-based social networks use the friend (approval required) model, the same as Facebook. Sally requests access to Joe’s updates, and Joe has to approve the request before Sally gets access to his updates.

A feature of all of the location-based social networks I’ve used is integration with other social networks for friend discovery. However, the difference between the friend and follow model creates a bad/weird user experience.

People I don’t know, who follow me on Twitter, are asking for access to my location. Most likely they are just importing their entire list en masse, but it’s strange to get these requests. After enough “who are you?” reactions, the notifications become noise and any actual signal is in danger of being lost.

I understand that not everyone has this type of experience – many folks only follow people they know on follow-model social networks, and only allow the same (via blocking or making their information private), but it’s definitely weird to see how these things collide.