Facebook to Google: You say Circles, We say Smart Lists

September 13, 2011

Facebook is unleashing another volley of product changes, as the world’s No.1 Internet social networking service moves to eliminate any gaps between its offering and new rival Google+.

Facebook said on Tuesday that it will make it easier for users of the service to organize their friends into different groups, such as family and work colleagues. The changes are designed to make using Facebook – whether sharing videos and photos, or having online dialogues – more like real life, where people behave differently in different contexts.

That notion, of course, is also one of the founding principles of Google’s two-and-a-half month old social networking service, which lets users drag-and-drop pictures of their friends into different circles, and publish information accordingly. According to some estimates, Google+ has already garnered more than 25 million users.

For Facebook, which counts more than 750 million users, the need for such fine-grained controls is clear. Users of Facebook are increasingly connected to broad and diverse types of people in addition to their close friends – not everyone wants the guy they met at the work conference to see their baby photos.

Facebook has long had the ability to slice-and-dice friends into different groups, but Facebook Director of Product Blake Ross acknowledged in an interview with Reuters earlier this week that is has been too complicated for average users to figure out how to do it.

Beginning on Wednesday, Facebook will introduce so-called Smart Lists, which automatically group a person’s contacts into four categories: Work, School, Family and City. Post a message on Facebook to one of those groups, and it will only be visible to the appropriate friends.  If a friend moves to another city, or gets a new job, Facebook automatically drops them from the list.

Facebook’s behind-the-scenes list management is in contrast to Google, which requires users to manually curate their lists.

“Categorizing people manually is very time consuming and boring for people,” said Ross.

That said, Facebook will also have two new lists that require hands-on care from users: Close Friends and Acquaintances. As the names suggest, Facebook users can add their most intimate friends to one list and be assured that every posting from those folks will appear inside their newsfeed, while Facebook postings from people deemed acquaintances will be dialed down.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

“Automatically” you say? They have already done some automatic things that have have pissed off and disillusioned a lot of the people who come across my “Home” page! What people want is for people like them to quit assuming they “know” what we want! Why not ask?

Posted by peterlichota | Report as abusive

From purely the end users perspective and user requirements, both these approaches – Lists and Circles – are constraining approaches and not the best way to group contacts and filter the sharing and following options.

There must be different approach than the current bucketing approach. I have written about the bucket vs tag approach for managing friends list and feed filtering here http://rohanrao.com/facebook-lists-and-g oogle-circles-the-bucket-approach-and-ho w-it-fails/

Would love to have your thoughts.
Cheers ~

Posted by rohanrrao | Report as abusive

Does Facebook ever actually ask its users what they might want? It puzzles me that all the recent changes just “appear” and they assume that users will appreciate them. I am sure I’m not the only low-tech person who uses Facebook. Unfortunately, it has become a necessity to have Facebook access in order to communicate with certain groups I am part of. I will be checking out the new google+ to see if it is any more user-friendly…

Posted by Gingerz | Report as abusive