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.