Facebook Updates Friend List Interface Again, Hoping to Increase Usage

In a small update that might be hinting at more changes to come, Facebook has altered how users select friends to add to their friends lists. Previously, when you approved a friend request, the interface included an option to add a friend to one or more lists. Now, you just see two buttons next to each potential friend’s name: Confirm or Ignore. If you click Confirm, you’ll then see the option to add them to lists. Click on it, and a window will appear showing your existing friend lists and asking you to toggle the ones you want your new friend to be listed under.

The previous list-adding interface was easy to miss. It appeared next to the other buttons, and if you confirmed, it simply disappeared. Now, Facebook has moved the friend lists choice menu directly into the approval process, in a way that is harder to ignore. Why? Because it wants people to use the feature more than they have been.

Facebook has tried to make itself more relevant to people’s lives at home, in the workplace and with friends from all walks of life. Meanwhile, it has encouraged people to share intimate details about themselves, like photos, interests and locations. The concepts naturally conflict, with the classic example being party photos — you don’t want your mom or your boss to see them, but you do want to share them with your friends.

To solve this problem, Facebook introduced friend lists years ago. However, it has had trouble getting the feature used much, we have heard, and observed anecdotally. In the latest set of redesigns, the company has made it increasingly difficult to do anything with lists. At this point, there is not even a clear way to publish certain content to just some of these lists. Although you can start typing in the names of these lists and enter them into the custom publisher that way, there is no wording indicating that this is possible. The main way to get value out of the lists, that Facebook currently makes obvious, is to read what people in the lists are sharing — navigate to the lists in the submenu of the home page left-hand navigation column, and view content from friends.

Competitors from startups to Google have been eyeing Facebook’s increasingly fused social graph, and trying to create more private alternatives. A recent presentation from a Google interface researcher working on social features highlighted this exact issue. While Google and other companies have not yet been able to chip away at Facebook’s social networking dominance, they see Facebook’s generic approach to friends as a weakness — and this change is likely a part of Facebook’s strategy to counteract that.

We wouldn’t be surprised to see friend lists make a bigger comeback across Facebook features, including in a home page redesign that’s rumored to be coming later this year.