Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

At Long Last, Facebook Adds Twitter-Style Following, Calls It “Subscribe”

Starting today, Facebook users will be allowed to offer people the option to subscribe to their public updates. Now Facebook users will be able to connect with each other without becoming friends, through a new “Subscribe” button.

Asymmetrical relationships have long been something Facebook resisted, which left room for Twitter to thrive. But combined with its new Google+-esque smart friend lists features introduced yesterday, Facebook seems to be on the warpath.

The notion of subscribing is a little complicated and different from what we’ve come to expect on Facebook, but here’s how Facebook Director of Product Naomi Gleit described it: Users can choose to post a Subscribe button on their profile. Once they do, any visitor can choose to subscribe to receive one of three options in their Facebook news feeds: all updates, most updates (what you’d see normally) or important updates (like getting married or having a kid).

Everything transmitted to subscribers is already public, and the act of subscribing is public as well. Gleit pointed out that the Subscribe button only gives people easier access to content they would have been able to view by going directly to someone’s profile.

I asked Gleit how subscribing is different from following on Twitter. She replied, “I think the subscribe button has a lot of features and granular options. It’s more about getting updates in your existing news feed.”

As this feature is something many people would have liked Facebook to add long ago, many public figures had already figured out an alternative solution using Facebook’s existing tools. In many cases, once users bumped up against Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit, they created a Facebook Page, like a brand or organization would do, where new people could “Like” them to receive updates. But then they had to maintain both a personal and outward-facing presence on just one social network, which could be a lot of work.

These public figures will be given the option to migrate the people who’ve “Liked” their Pages to become subscribers, Gleit said. But she added that people who want to access analytics or other advanced management features should probably stick with a Page.

On the flip side, brands can’t have subscribers. The Subscribe button is only for people.

The Subscribe button isn’t only for people who are already famous, though. Gleit suggested that a foodie like herself could treat her public profile as sort of a food blog, encouraging people who are interested in her cooking and dining experiences to subscribe.

Subscribe isn’t available to minors, because they’re not allowed to make public updates.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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