Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Gets With the Modern Friending Program, Adds Smart Lists

Facebook is updating its “Friend Lists” feature to help its users better address the fact that they have different relationships with Facebook friends from different parts of their lives.

This bluntness of friend relationships has been a major perceived weakness of Facebook, one that competitors like Google+ and start-ups like Katango have worked to address in their own products.

Still, Facebook has more than 750 million users — so even if it’s reacting to others, its changes will have more impact. But there’s no question the company is fixing this issue after other people have gotten to it first.

Here are the new features (some of which had leaked as part of user testing): Over the next two weeks, all Facebook users will be offered lists of what the site understands to be their work, school, family and city connections. These “Smart Lists” will be updated automatically though users can edit them as well. Users can publish to specific lists and filter their news feed to see only those lists.

Facebook is also giving users the option to manually create three lists that address different levels of relationships: “Close Friends” — where you’ll see everything they post, and can even get notifications for new posts — “Acquaintances” — where you only see the most important things they post — and “Restricted” — where they only see your public content.

So for example, your spouse might be a “Close Friend,” someone you met at a conference might be an “Acquaintance,” and your boss might be “Restricted.”

Previously, Facebook had deemphasized the four-year-old Friend Lists feature, offering alternatives like a Groups tool where members can add and see each other. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this was because managing friends is hard, and fewer than five percent of Facebook users had ever even used the Friend List tool.

So what changed? In an interview, Facebook Director of Product Blake Ross shrugged off the notion that Facebook is following competitors. Rather, he said, it’s that Facebook has grown so large that people hold off on sharing because they’re talking to too many people.

“It’s very hard to talk to all of these people at once and say something global and relevant to all of them, and even harder to see all their updates to you,” Ross said.

“You’re literally starting to become connected to everyone on Facebook that you know in real life,” he added. “It’s almost paralyzing.”

Ross said he anticipates that once users are more sure of which people they’re sharing with, they will share more content on Facebook.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”