Facebook has updated its Friend Lists feature with suggestions of people to add to lists, and a method of sorting friends by common characteristics. The frequently forgotten feature lets users create groupings of their friends, which they can then use to filter the news feed and determine who will see the content they share. Past incarnations haven’t been easy enough to use for the majority of Facebook users to adopt them, but this new version helps users complete their Friend Lists so they use them for sharing and privacy.
In a July talk, CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that changes would be coming for the feature because “Most people don’t want to create lists of things, but the act of adding friends is a very nice feeling. No doubt it would be better if everyone had these friend groups [automatically] created.” While the changes stop short of creating Friend Lists without user action, they will help users quickly fill lists with relevant people. Users can make certain content types visible to or hidden from specific lists, or use the new distribution parameter visible on the content publisher to decide which lists to share with.
Users can access the new Friend Lists features directly by going to the Account drop-down menu in the top right corner of the Facebook home page and clicking “Edit Friends”. They can also access them by clicking “Friends” in the home page’s left navigation sidebar, then creating a new list or editing an empty existing list and hitting the red “add” link.
The new Friend Lists home page starts by showing you your “Recents”, explained as “the friends with whom you have most recently had public interactions on Facebook.” Using the drop-down menu, users can choose to sort their friends by a common location, school, workplace, or interest. Using the typeahead, users can pick a city, town, school, company name, or Page, and see all their friends who list that characteristic in their profile. Users could see everyone whose current city is San Francisco, who work at Google, or who Like Lady Gaga. A user’s last two characteristic searches are saved in the drop-down for later use.
Oddly, there is no way to convert the search results into a permanent Friend List, but the feature may inspire users to manually create a list for that characteristic. As of press time, many official Pages were missing from the interests typeahead, preventing users from sorting by common interest in smaller Pages such as a local business or artist.
When viewing an existing list, the right sidebar displays people “Suggested For This List”. The suggestions take into account common characteristics and friendships with those already in the Friend List. For instance, if you create a Friend List of a few friends from where you grew up, many in the list will likely have the same hometown entered on their profiles. The suggestions would then be other friends of yours who share that hometown and who are friends with those in the list. Users can add the suggestions to the currently viewed list using “+” buttons, or use “x” buttons to hide a suggestion and replace it with another.
Since it can be difficult to know every friend who moved to your current city, works with you at your current job, or loves the same band as you, users previously would have holes in their Friend Lists. If they didn’t want to spam all their friends about an upcoming concert, they’d have to distribute a status update to an incomplete list of those they assumed enjoyed that musician. Alternatively, if a user wasn’t sure hiding a set of objectionable photos from a specific Friend List would make the content invisible to everyone who’d be offended, they’d opt not to post the photos.
Friend List suggestions and characteristic sorting will help users build comprehensive Friend Lists such that they can properly function as distribution parameters and privacy settings. Friend Lists allow users to share more with fewer people, meaning users don’t need to censor themselves, but can instead efficiently match content with the people it’s appropriate for. As users increasingly add family members, co-workers, bosses, and near strangers as friends on Facebook, a well designed Friend List feature becomes ever more crucial to sharing while maintaining one’s reputation.[Thanks to Chris Bank for the tip]