Dear Facebook: Please Add This Feature

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Dear Facebook:
My wife’s six-year-old grandniece is currently in a coma, and unresponsive.  Her MRI is at 7:30.
I’d say I can’t imagine her stress, but the truth is, I can.  Our family went through this twice this year – once when I went in for an emergency triple-bypass, and once when we watched our Goddaughter Rebecca go in to have emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor.  Each minute that passed without news was excruciating.
And everyone wants to know.
That’s another layer of pressure for concerned loved ones: the waves of incoming texts, the constant need to keep everyone up-to-date.  In the middle of stressing out about “Is my husband/daughter/brother going to die?”, they are all barraged by well-meaning people demanding updates. And the well-meaning people are all constantly checking Facebook, endlessly refreshing the page in case there’s some snippet of new news.
What I would like, Facebook, is a “medical emergency subscription” service.  So I (or Gini) could create a kind of “tag” for status updates like, “Ferrett’s heart attack” that only she or I could post to.  And then anyone who can see my account could subscribe to that status, whether they’re friended to Gini or not, and you in turn would push notifications like “Ferrett is out of surgery” and “Ferrett is on life-support, but they expect him to be up and awake within 24 hours” and “Ferrett just asked for a glass of water” to all the people who want to know the instant the news comes in.
This way, a poor wife in the center of things can post the news to just one place, and have everyone get it ASAP.  And she can refer people to this subscription service, so that she doesn’t have to constantly text a hundred different people to keep them in the loop, allowing her .
In these days of social media, you, Facebook, have become the place that brings families together.  I know you’re committed to making Facebook useful – this would make Facebook a mercy in a time of stress, a one-stop shop so that everyone would stay alerted to the status of their loved ones without crushing the caretaker under a barrage of posts.
We need this.  Please make this happen.
(EDIT: Everyone who’s said, “Just create a hashtag and let people follow that!” has clearly never refreshed their cell phone a hundred times, waiting to hear if their dying mother is going to make it through the day.  Notifications are every bit as key as one-stop access – considering that 30% of people access Facebook through their mobile phones exclusively anyway, having a pre-baked system that pushes notifications out to you so that you don’t have to continually worry you missed something is also key.)


  1. Rick Carter
    Dec 26, 2013

    I think this is easily covered without some additional functionality. Two possibilities:
    1) You create public posts with the hashtag #FerrettsHeartAttack and let people know what hashtag you’re using (ok others could use that same hashtag if that’s a worry somehow).
    2) You create an public-but-moderated group, “Ferret’s Heart Attack “and have at it. Then you get to decide who the moderators are. I can’t see anything at all different from what you’re asking for then.
    Either way, you have to let people, subscribed or not, know the hashtag or the group name. but that’d be the case in your proposal as well.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 26, 2013

      Updated the post to indicate why that solution utterly does not work.

  2. Charles Mckeithan
    Dec 26, 2013

    I just went through a mass update crisis last year. It was non life threatening, but similiar in that a great many people wanted to know what was going on and how to help. I was overwelmed with the situation and retyping the same things over and over. My solution was to form a group page. Anyone wanting to know or comment about the situation could do so without it being terribly overpublic. Hope that idea helps.

  3. Anne
    Dec 27, 2013

    I believe is what you’re looking for. Although some kind of better integration between it and Facebook/Twitter could only improve all 3.
    Hope and strength to you and yours…

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 27, 2013

      The problem with Caringbridge, which has been brought up before, is that you a) need to know about it (we didn’t until the fourth tragedy), and b) so does everyone else, involving more effort.
      I’m a developer. I could easily create my own version. The reason I think Facebook should do it is because everyone pretty much has an account, and integrating it would involve zero effort. I’d like zero effort during a time of stress, since most of the families hit by tragedies like that don’t go, “Well, I should have a plan in place for when X has a seizure.” The less they have to research and/or be alerted to different websites that do this for them, the better. (Though I love what Caringbridge is trying to do, God bless ’em.)

  4. Sean
    Dec 27, 2013

    TLDR: This seems a bit like reinventing the wheel to make a very specialized wheel that really won’t be an improvement on the many specialized wheels we already have that currently do a decent enough job to meet your requirements.
    I would highly recommend considering SMS texting and/or Facebook chat for this need.
    The system described, at least as I understand it, technically already exists in several forms; SMS txt messages can be sent from one cell phone to multiple recipients, Twitter seems appropriate though typically less integrated in cell phones than SMS, and an individual’s wall on Facebook shows posts in chronological order with the most recent post first. Facebook, however, is the most passive of these communication platforms. Email could work too if the recipients have smart phones. It may be a bit old fashioned but what about calling people on the phone and leaving a voicemail?
    I almost forgot, Facebook has an integrated chat feature. I’ve been invited to conversations with people I do not have friended so I’m pretty sure that’s a viable option to meet the requirement of a reasonably private system that can reach any specified person regardless of friend status. I don’t know if people can request access to a conversation they know about but haven’t been invited to, but it seems reasonable that people in the conversation would invite people they know who would need or want to know the medical status of a friend or family member.
    In the update the author notes “Everyone who’s said, “Just create a hashtag and let people follow that!” has clearly never refreshed their cell phone a hundred times, waiting to hear if their dying mother is going to make it through the day.” I really don’t see how Facebook developing a special medical emergency notification service would in any way remove the requirement of refreshing a page to get an update or improve upon how Facebook chat could be used in the situation.
    It seems like the primary requirement is for notification to be pushed to recipients rather than relying on recipients to refresh. That being the case it would seem SMS txt messages and Facebook chat are the most appropriate systems currently in existence for this communication need.
    Pretty much everyone with a cell phone has unlimited messaging these days, SMS is built into every cell phone available today, recipients are alerted immediately when a new message comes in, and most cell phones display missed messages or provide an indicator that new messages have been received.
    Facebook chat pretty much does the same thing, but requires a computer or smartphone app.
    Sorry for the lengthy comment. I just feel that the technology you ask for already exists, it’s just a matter of recognizing it and applying it to your needs.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 27, 2013

      Really. So as the person who’s done this five times in the last year, do you honestly think I didn’t use the amazing power of a text?
      Had you considered the point that I made – namely, that for a grieving caretaker to have to, you know, MAKE A SEPARATE TEXT TO EACH FUCKING PERSON TAKES TIME? (Or managing and responding to group texts, or individual Facebook chats, et al.) Time they COULD be, you know, fucking spending with the sick person?
      I don’t mind lengthy comments. Nor do I mind solutions. I DO mind it when one blithely goes, “Oh, well, the existing technology works” without taking five seconds to contemplate, “Clearly, he’s been through this and has found this lacking, so what am I missing about this?” Especially when I addressed those issues IN THE ESSAY ITSELF.

  5. Jamie
    Dec 27, 2013

    Create a Facebook ACCOUNT. Instruct people to add it, and put it in that star list that makes posts pop up as updates.
    Not perfect, but a temp solution?

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