Katherine Boehret

Facebook Updates Help Users Share Better With Others

On a recent vacation to Aruba, I had to smile when I saw that each of the computers in the hotel business center had Facebook.com saved in their Internet bookmarks. Even people in a tropical paradise are anxious to check Facebook.

For all of Facebook’s popularity, many of its users are still nervous about how to maintain their privacy on the network. Google’s rival social network, called Google+, answered the call for easier sharing control: Each post clearly shows which groups of friends will see it, and these groups are privately named by users.

This week I’ll dig into the latest updates on Facebook, which aim to ease the process of controlling one’s profile and privacy. An upcoming Facebook developer conference in two weeks is expected to reveal additional changes.

Show Me the Viewers

One of the interface changes on Facebook is its more obvious way of showing users who will see their posts. Facebook takes a page from Google+ by better revealing sharing: It uses a drop-down menu beside each post that, by default, checkmarks either Public, Friends or Custom, and sharing can be changed with each post. The Custom setting can exclude or include certain groups, but people still must open it to adjust customized sharing. With Google +, though, all groups with whom content is shared are constantly visible underneath the post.

Facebook’s own blog hints at future improvements to this sharing awareness, saying that this drop-down menu will grow to include smaller groups of people with whom you may want to share so as to make it easier to choose the audience you want for certain posts, which sounds a lot like what Google+ offers.

Now, you can change the sharing settings associated with a post after it publishes to your profile. In the past, a post’s sharing settings were permanent once it was published, and changing it required deleting the entire post and re-posting with different sharing settings.

Location, Location, Location

A handy new feature in Facebook is the ability to add one’s location to each post. This feature was once limited to the Facebook app on mobile devices. Adding a location to a post like, “heading off for lunch with friends,” gives the post more contextual information. By tagging the photos I share on Facebook from my recent vacation with “Aruba,” I save myself the trouble of creating an Aruba album or adding a caption to each photo that says where it was captured.

Tag, You’re It

When Facebook first enabled tagging people in posts, a method used for mentioning someone so other people know that person is with you, numerous friends asked me how to do this since it wasn’t obvious. Before now, the way to tag someone was by placing the “@” symbol before a friend’s name while mentioning that friend in a post, or simply typing his or her name. Now, a small symbol below the window where users type posts shows an icon of a person with a “+” symbol. Clicking on that lets users type other people’s names to add to the post.

Facebook now lets you tag people in photos and posts even if you aren’t Facebook friends with them—and vice versa. Previously, you could only tag people if you were already Facebook friends.

Also, any post or photo in which you’re tagged by someone who isn’t a Facebook friend must first be approved by you. And Facebook takes this a step further by now letting you opt to review and approve any tag someone else tries to add to one of your Facebook posts or photos.

Before, any other Facebook friend could tag you or other people in your photos without your say-so. This content tag review isn’t on by default, so to turn it on, select Account (in the top right corner of your Facebook page) and then Privacy Settings. Next, edit the settings in How Tags Work and turn Profile Review on.

My Profile, My Way

One of my favorite new features is that it’s now easier for me to tweak my own profile page to include content I want on it. For example, a friend tagged me in one of her photos and one of my eyes was closed. Rather than un-tagging myself from my friend’s photo, which totally unidentifies me in the photo, I can now just remove the photo from my profile.

To do this, I clicked on the icon that appears at the right side of each post and selected Remove Post in the drop-down menu. This lets my friend keep the photo tagged with my name, but the photo doesn’t appear with my profile. The same is true for non-photo posts that include my name.

The Change-Up

Not all new features in Facebook will be well received. A former feature that let people click a “Link” button in a post to add a URL is gone as part of an effort to streamline the network. People can still share links in posts by pasting a URL into a post, but this doesn’t automatically remove the long URL, like that “Link” button did. Facebook is weighing whether to add the link capability back in posts.

Facebook isn’t currently as good as Google+ when it comes to showing users exactly which groups of friends will see their posted content. But many more people use Facebook—and social networks work best when the people you want to socialize with are using them—so Facebook currently maintains its go-to social-network status. With Google+ nipping at its heels, Facebook will surely further improve the way it displays sharing options.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

Tagging people in posts Type ‘@person’s name’ or just type the person’s name. Select icon below text box to tag people; @ and typing name still work.
Add link to post Click ‘Link’ to add Web link without also displaying long URL. ‘Link’ button is gone, so must paste URL into post.
Sharing with certain people Groups of people with whom posts were shared couldn’t be changed after posting. Sharing permissions for any post can be changed after posting.
Tagging people who aren’t friends Impossible Can tag other Facebook users even if they aren’t a friend. They must approve this tag.
Remove photo or post from profile Only possible by untagging oneself. Drop-down menu beside a tagged photo or post removes it from profile, keeps name tagged.

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