Connecting on Facebook, friendship no longer required

September 14, 2011

For years, connecting with people on Facebook has been a consensual act.

But that’s about to change as Facebook, the world’s largest Internet social networking service, introduces a new feature that means people will no longer need to be friends to form a relationship.

A new “subscribe” button announced on Wednesday will allow Facebook users to essentially tune-in to updates from people they are interested in, but don’t necessarily know personally, such as artists, political figures, corporate executives, or columnists.

If that sounds similar to the way things work on Twitter, where an individual can “follow” anyone who is on the service and read their “tweets,” that’s because it is.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s similar to the capabilities available on Google+, the Internet search giant’s recently-launched social networking service.

When Google+ launched in June, many observers described it as an imitation of Facebook. But Google+ offered a few features that set it apart from Facebook – and Facebook has been moving quickly to match them.

On Tuesday, Facebook said it would make it easier for users to organize their friends into different groups of people, such as family and work colleagues, and to control the personal information that the various groups have access to. The concept is not unlike the circles available on Google+, into which users drag-and-drop images of their friends and then share information accordingly.

Facebook users who subscribe to other people will only see information — whether it’s photos or messages — that the individual has published for public consumption.  And any user on Facebook can try to build-up their own base of subscribers by broadcasting their Facebook updates to the broader public.

Note that minors will not be able to send out public messages or have people subscribe to them.

Facebook is also giving users more control over the amount of information they receive from their friends as well as from the people they subscribe to.  New controls allow users to specify whether they’d like to receive all updates from an individual, most updates, or only important updates, effectively acting as a volume control for the ever increasing din of the social world.

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