Facebook tries new prompts to encourage users to organize friends into lists

Facebook now displays sidebar modules that encourage users to add friends to a “close friends” list and prompts users to add to their “acquaintances” list after they mark News Feed items as spam.

These two new features suggest that Facebook wants to emphasize friend lists as a means for improving relevance in News Feed, not necessarily positioning them as a way to manage a user’s privacy. The features are also examples of how the social network can encourage users to engage with aspects of the service they might not have used lately or ever tried.

In the past, Facebook included recommendations for who to add to a friend list on the list page itself, not elsewhere on the site. Now the social network is displaying sidebar modules — like the one seen right — to some users who haven’t added any friends to the “close friends” list yet. This list ensures that users see more of these friends’ posts in News Feed and sends them optional notifications about their friends’ activity.

Friends that are added to the “acquaintances” list will appear less frequently in News Feed. As such, now when users mark an item as spam, Facebook suggests, “Use Acquaintances to organize who you see in feed.” Clicking the link directs users to the recently developed tool that recommends who to add to the list based on users’ interactions on the site.

Last year Facebook rolled out “acquaintances,” “close friends” and “Smart Lists” after the launch of Google+, which highlighted its Circles feature as a way to help users organize who they share with online. Facebook, which first made friend lists available in 2007, had found that only about 5 percent of users ever created lists, so for years it seemed to de-emphasize them. Then with Smart Lists, it began automatically creating lists for family, coworkers, classmates and people who live nearby. It also began using algorithms to suggest who to add to close friends, acquaintances or any custom list users create.

But for all the talk about privacy concerns, it is likely that a small percentage of users use lists to limit who they share with, even though Facebook has begun creating them for people. This might have been what prompted Facebook to begin focusing on lists as a way to improve News Feed relevance. If the social network can get users to indicate who they are close to and who’s just an acquaintance, it can use that to improve their experience on the site. Users never even have to use the list on their own.