Facebook's Real Scalability Problem

-Exponential Growth Chart-Want to scale a system which can handle over 300 million monthly users, approximately half of which are logging in daily? It’s not an easy task however Facebook has managed to pull off an impressive feat but as many users are noticing: not everything is working as it should. The primary problems exist for the minority, yet rapidly growing population, of hyper-connected individuals who have thousands of contacts. So what’s going wrong?

Facebook Scales Horizontally

Facebook has been the most effective platform so far for attracting a large volume of users on a global scale. In an interview with Fast Company, Mark Zuckerberg spoke about how the same “S curve” growth that the company was experiencing at universities: “I think that now the growth curve that we have is very similar to that, except instead of colleges we have countries.” It’s an impressive feat and all of this has been accomplished with mostly open source platforms.

However Facebook has resulted in new behavior among the younger users who now have grown large lists of contacts. From loose relationships with elementary, high school, and university peers, to the close relationships built with real “friends” and co-workers. The company has provided users with friend lists as a tool for managing those relationships and controlling privacy settings.

Errors Abound

Despite the services provided by Facebook which enable users to stay in contact with a larger volume of contacts, many users have reported having problems. For instance I am unable to use my iPhone Facebook application because I have too many contacts. I can’t load my friends which makes the service practically useless aside from the ability to view my feed and manage the AllFacebook.com Page.

While I happen to have over 4,000 contacts, other users with closer to 1,000 contacts are reporting similar problems as well. Also should I ever navigate to a page which loads up all of my friends in an single window, I end up waiting for about 2 minutes prior to the page loading and my browser unfreezing. It’s become a nuisance to perform a lot of tasks and track applications on the platform due to the issues with my contact list.

Some others have reported browser related issues with trying to configure friend lists and I’m sure there are numerous other small bugs. When you’re looking to manage all of your contacts in a single location however, you want the system to work the first time around in order to make it easy to manage on an ongoing basis. Facebook will have to resolve the friend scaling issue sooner rather than later as the platform is what has enabled users to have more relationships, making this problem a larger one, not just limited to a few individuals.

Have you found similar bugs that occur as you add more friends? Is having 1,000+ friends really that rare?