Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Makes Sharing More Granular (Hmm … Where Have We Heard That Pitch Before?)

Facebook will attempt to address some perceived weaknesses of its interface by making content sharing more precise and visual in a redesign that launches this week.

The obvious comparison is to Google+, the new social network that’s gunning for Facebook by making sharing more granular.

And indeed, Facebook’s new user profile redesign (which is rolling out to one percent of users starting this Thursday) includes a dropdown menu beside new status updates that allow users to post content to individuals, groups of friends or the general public. It looks exactly like Google+.

But let’s not go overboard; Facebook isn’t borrowing the greater Google+ anatomy, like “Circles” of friends and a mix of asymmetrical and mutual relationships.

Instead, Facebook is making a huge number of tweaks to its profile design, many of them aimed at addressing common user complaints.

Facebook seems to realize that the Google+ comparisons are inevitable, but VP of Product Chris Cox fended them off. “These changes have been in the works for six months,” he said in an interview Monday (see the full Q&A here).

“It’s not the kind of thing where we can respond to what Google’s doing in a month,” Cox said, explaining that Facebook had spent considerable time reviewing the changes with regulatory and privacy interest groups. “This really is not at all about Google in any way, it’s about trying to iterate.”

Still, as we’ve previously reported, Facebook is currently in a self-imposed “lockdown” mode to buckle down on shipping new products, partly in response to the launch of Google+.

Some of this week’s changes are subtle but significant shifts, like giving users the ability to use a setting that prevents a photo of themselves — which were uploaded and tagged by someone else — from showing up on their own profile pages until it’s been approved.

Unwanted photo-tagging had previously been one of users’ most common complaints, Cox said Monday. Now, users will be given the option on any such photo to remove the tag, or ask the poster to take down the photo, or block the user entirely.

“We do think it’s important that people can tag anyone and anything,” Cox said, “but on the flip side, your profile is yours — so this is an attempt to get the balance right.”

Another new setting allows users to tag people in photos who are not their friends, so users don’t feel obligated to friend new people just because they met them once at an event and posed for a group picture together.

Just to give a sampling, yet another new feature gives users the option to add place tags to their status messages so they can mention a place they were when something happened in the past. Meanwhile, a semantic tweak changes the descriptor from “everyone” to “public” so users can better understand the potential impact of their content. And the sharing category “friends of friends” has been deemphasized in the new interface as some users found it overly broad and confusing (I know I did!).

That level of extreme detail and seeming haphazardness is common throughout all the new changes, making them too intricate to describe fully here.

Suffice it to say, the main theme is that Facebook is bringing its privacy options off of its nearly hidden settings pages and into the context in which users share content.

The new sharing tools will be available on Facebook’s Web site, its mobile site, and its iPhone and Android apps, but not versions of the social network developed by other companies like the BlackBerry and Motorola Blur interfaces.

This launch seems likely to ruffle Facebook users’ notoriously sensitive feathers given its little tweaks affect so many parts of the Facebook experience. But at least based on the press briefing, it’s not obvious that any one change will be controversial or dramatic. Cox said Facebook has put considerable effort into materials aimed at helping users get accustomed to the new features.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.


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