Facebook will be adding a personalized recommendation feature to the Subscribe button that it launched earlier today, helping users find interesting non-friends to receive public updates from. Similar to friend suggestions that are based on who users have mutual friends with, Facebook Director of Product Naomi Gleit tells us the “People to Subscribe to” sidebar module will base subscription recommendations on who a user’s friends subscribe to.[Update: The “People to Subscribe to” sidebar module is now live. It displays subscription suggestions along with friends who’ve subscribed to someone, or where the suggested user works.]
In addition to this forthcoming feature, Facebook has implemented several other ways for users to discover people to subscribe to. The news feed now displays stories about the new subscriptions of friends, the friendship panel on the right side of the profile displays friends who subscribe to someone, and Subscriber and Subscription tabs on profiles provide lists of people users might want receive updates from.
These personalized recommendations contrast with Twitter’s original king-making “Suggested User” list that provided new registrants with recommendations of people to follow from a limited list. That feature was criticized for causing certain celebrities and friends of Twitter employees to rapidly gain tens of thousands of followers. Instead, Facebook’s subscription recommendations will promote authors who publish updates especially relevant to a user and their network.
As the Subscribe feature just launched, most users currently have no subscriptions or subscribers. However, once some of a user’s friends have organically discovered authors to Subscribe to, Facebook will begin asking users if they also want to follow those authors.
Gleit explains that the recommendations will be “fairly algorithmic. The Subscribe recommendations engine will mainly show people your friends are subscribing to.” Facebook’s “Subscribe for Public Figures” .PDF document details that the feature will come in the form of a sidebar module users see while browsing the site, similar to the People You May Know module for friend suggestions.
Facebook does have some features in place to assist with subscription discovery. Activity stories are posted on a user’s wall and to the news feeds of their friends when they Subscribe to new people. This provides viral exposure for those receiving subscriptions.
When users visit the profile on a non-friend, they’ll see if any of their friends have subscribed to that person. This information appears in the friendship panel on the right side of the profile that usually displays mutual friends Likes.
Users can also visit Subscriptions and Subscribers tabs in the profile’s left navigation menu. If a user has a friend who’s opinion that trust, they could go through the Subscriptions tab and begin following all the people that friend has subscribed to.
Facebook is using the fact that assymetrical following isn’t its primary feature to help it improve on Twitter’s blunder. Most users will have forged friendships before they start subscribing to people, giving Facebook the data necessary to power a personalized subscription recommendation engine rather than blindly suggesting the same authors to everyone.