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The Ex-Boyfriend Antipattern

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The boyfriend anti-pattern or the ex-girlfriend bug exists when the social system makes suggestions for connecting, based on friends-of-friends inference, to people who are not desired, like an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Additionally, systems that rely on location awareness to alert a user’s network about where the user is or for planning an event, will alert the user’s ex if they haven’t been blocked or un-friended.


Use When

Use this pattern to create facets or circles of friends.


Allow the user to create categories of friends. (see Circles of Connections)

Allow users to filter permissions against these categories.

Brightkite allows you to mark friends as a Trusted Friend which allows them to see more specific information when in private mode.

Allow users to block some categories without specifically acknowledging that the “friends” are blocked.


Consider this, in 2005, the mobile social networking software, Dodgeball, allowed people to broadcast their location to their network to encourage impromptu social gatherings. At first there was only one bucket for friends, but as people began dating each other and then breaking up, there became a very strong need to filter out an ex without totally alienating them – by unfriending.

The founders of Dodgeball called it “‘the ex-girlfriend bug,’ and devised a function called ‘manage friends.’ Now you can move certain friends into a category where they can’t see your location, but they don’t know you’re blocking them. They just think you’re never in the same neighborhood.” New York Magazine, By Amy Sohn Published Mar 21, 2005

Allowing more control over privacy and broadcast settings and the ability to filter based on groups of people allows users to be in control of their communications and information streams.

Allowing users to create buckets or circles of connections, avoids potentially awkward social situations (online and in real-life) when information about whereabouts or actions appears to the wrong people.

Related Patterns

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