Facebook cuts down annoying ‘now connected on Messenger’ alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook” BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too, so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow,” and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about overuse, we may be able to make swifter progress toward them respecting our attention.

Facebook fights creeps and apathy with expiring friend requests

Snapchat has ephemeral messages, and now Facebook has ephemeral friend requests. The big blue social network feeds off your social graph, and every time you expand it, it has more content to show you. But if you leave a questionable friend request in limbo for too long, you’ll probably never confirm or delete it. So Facebook is betting that by making those friend requests into exploding offers, you’ll be more likely to accept than lose the opportunity to connect. And if you didn’t want that friend request in the first place, it will self-destruct even if you don’t bother to manually reject it.

On Friday, TechCrunch reader Christine Hudler provided screenshots of a new expiring friend requests feature that gives you a 14-day countdown to make a decision. Now a Facebook spokesperson has confirmed the feature to TechCrunch, writing “I can confirm that this is a test to help surface the most recent requests.” Facebook tells me it’s a way to assist people with managing unwanted friend requests by eventually deleting those people saw but didn’t accept. It’s currently only appearing to a subset of users, not to everyone.

Those in the test group will see a “14 days to respond” countdown on their friend requests. A “Learn More” link leads to this Help Center article we’ve screenshotted here, as it only shows details about expirations to those in the test.

Keeping people’s friend request queue clean is critical to the company because if you can’t find the legitimate ones from people you know amongst all the randos and spam, you might stop growing your graph. Expiring friend requests could also solve a problem for social media stars and other public figures on Facebook. The app only lets you have up to 5,000 friends, and a limited number of pending requests that seems to be 5,000 minus your friend count (Facebook wouldn’t say). After that, you won’t receive inbound friend requests any more. The expiration date makes it much less likely that you’ll ever hit the pending friend request maximum.

The “limited time offer” trick has been around in shopping forever as way to boost your sense of urgency. Humans love optionality, but hate to miss out. People buy things they don’t actually want off of infomercials because if they “ACT NOW!” they’ll get a discount before it disappears. This same approach compels people to open Snapchat so they don’t miss their friends’ Stories that delete themselves after 24 hours.

The feature comes at a time when Facebook is especially sensitive about appearing respectful of your data, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Friend requests from total strangers can make users feel like they’re already sharing too much public information, and that one wrong click could expose their friends-only photos and posts. Keeping these requests from piling up could make users feel safer while ensuring they can keep adding real friends.

For more on what’s up with Facebook, read our feature pieces: