Katango’s Web App Auto-Creates Friend Lists and Exports Them to Facebook

Last month, Katango launched a mobile messaging iPhone app built on a game-changing technology — the ability to analyze characteristics about your Facebook friends and automatically sort them into clusters such as co-workers, best friends, or college housemates. Today Katango releases a Connect web app that allows users to export these clusters to Facebook as friend lists that they can use to determine who they share content with.

Katango makes friend list creation so quick and easy it could significantly increase usage of the feature. Currently, only 5% of Facebook users manually build lists. It could also help Facebook one-up Google+, which requires users to manually sort their email contacts into Circles — a painful process that puts up a huge barrier to using the competing social network.

Kleiner Perkins saw the potential of Katango’s sophisticated friend sorting algorithm, and made it the first investment of its social-focused sFund. Unfortunately, the mobile messaging app fell short of expectations. Its friend list creation was highly accurate, but users couldn’t export them, and friends without the app would receive messages via email or Facebook wall post rather than more immediate and effective SMS as with other group messaging apps.

Now, Katango has made its true value available for free to the public. Users grant the web app permissions and it automatically groups their friends into roughly a dozen clusters depending on how many friends they have. Users can then name the clusters, and add or remove friends from them to correct the occasional mistaken admission or omission.

Once a user name’s Katango group, it is automatically exported as a friend list to Facebook and kept synced over time. Users can then select to publish a status update only to their Katango-made friend lists such as “fellow technology journalists”, filter their news feed by a list, or configure their privacy settings prevent a list such as “family” from seeing their photo albums.

The app defaults to publishing a post from the user saying “I added you to a Facebook list using Katango” on the walls a user’s friends that are included in an exported list. Users can opt out of publishing these wall posts in the tiny “settings” tab in the top right corner. These posts aren’t explicitly authorized and could be considered spam.

While the viral tactic is sure to drive traffic, it also erodes trust, which is essential if Katango wants users to give it access to otherwise private friend lists. The company should consider more clearly notifying users that it will publish posts, or make the posts opt it, or it may run into enforcement trouble for receiving the many spam complaints.

Facebook has made several improvements to its native friend list creation feature over the years, recently adding suggestions of people missing from a list, but not going as far as to automatically create them. The difficulty of building them from scratch, lack of understanding of their use, and their buried place in the Facebook interface has led to low adoption, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying only 5% use them. Facebook launched its Groups feature where only one member creates a Group that can be used by others in an effort to tackle the problem from another angle.

Friend lists are crucial to Facebook’s future. Without them, it’s difficult to share with a specific subset of friends that aren’t explicitly connected to each other through a Group. Microsharing allows users to post a wider variety of content to Facebook, driving up engagement. Friend lists also solve privacy issues, by helping users manage who can see their profile as their “friends” grow to include sensitive parties such as professional contacts and family members.

Google understands this as well, basing its Google+ social network around sharing to small “Circles”. However, the new Google+ user experience includes the chore of categorizing all of ones email contacts. Some don’t have to patience to endure this unnatural process, but Google doesn’t have much data other than who you email to generate suggestions.

Facebook on the other hand has amassed tons of data about friend interconnections available through its APIs, allowing Katango to group friends based on those tagged in the same photos, that Like the same status updates, or with mutual friends. If Facebook is serious about helping users microshare and manage privacy, and wants to box out Google, it should consider implementing a similar feature or forming a partnership with Katango. In the meantime, users can visit Katango to instantly begin optimizing their Facebook experience through friend lists, though they should be sure to opt out of allowing it to send spammy wall posts.

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