During Talk, Zuckerberg Hints at Friends List Changes, Calls Upcoming Film “Fiction”

Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that Facebook is working on improvements to the friend lists feature during a talk yesterday –“hopefully soon we’ll have something more to talk about,” he said.

Friend lists allow users to categorize friends into named subsets which can be used to restrict distribution of posts, quickly invite a selection of friends to an event, view only certain people in the news feed, and organize Facebook Chat’s buddy list. Zuckerberg explained how sharing something with “friends” used to mean it was relatively private. Now, since people have friends from across their social spheres, it’s important that they be able to share with exactly who they want.

Zuckerberg also reiterated key company talking points yesterday during his talk at the Computer History Museum, formatted as an interview with David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. One point is that Facebook is nowhere near the end of the product roadmap; the other is that the upcoming film about Facebook’s origins, “The Social Network,” is fictional.

Friend list changes are an intriguing part of that product roadmap. “More and more people have subgroups”, Zuckerberg said, explaining how the definition of friends has evolved since the college-only days when users typically only added their peers. Since registration was opened to everyone, friends began to include co-workers, family members, and others with whom it might be inappropriate to share the same posts that you share with friends. Creating a system with which users feel comfortable sharing personal hardships only with family, jokes and wild stories exclusively with best friends, and only the most benign content with their co-workers or bosses is essential to Facebook maximizing its utility and relevance.

Friend lists, launched in late 2007, made this narrow-casting possible. However, few people have used them even when they were featured more prominently on the site. Per the latest redesigns, they are buried behind the “Friends” navigation button on the home page’s left sidebar, and require a long series of clicks to apply as a privacy parameter for posts. Zuckerberg said “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.”

This hint at a new version of the feature suggests Facebook will analyze user data such as people you are frequently tagged in photos with, who likes your posts, or other relevant information, like location, age, or mutual friends. If combined with instructions for use, a more prominent placement in the interface, and an easy way to share only to a certain list, friend lists could become integral to the future of engagement on Facebook.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the end. The product and policy decisions are going to be the most important decisions we make in the next 5 years,” Zuckerberg stressed throughout the talk. “We’re not in maintenance mode, there’s a lot of innovation to do”, he said, emphasizing their work as a platform and utility which can make any website social.

But a threat to Facebook’s longevity is the nagging user worry that the site could use their vast stores of data for evil. “The Social Network” has the potential to increase this worry if audiences think it is factual. In order to minimize reactions to the film coloring the public’s opinion of Facebook, Zuckerberg said he probably won’t see it, repeatedly using the word “fiction” to describe the film. “I wish when people did media or journalism about Facebook that they would at least try to get it right. We try to focus on building the best product and I hope that’s what people remember us for, not the stories along the way.”