Facebook Adds “More Online Friends” to Chat, Returning the Complete Buddy List

Facebook has returned to showing users their complete buddy list in Chat with the addition of a “More Online Friends” section. Now users see their closest and recently interacted with friends at the top of the Chat buddy list, and can independently scroll down the Chat bar to view the online statuses of all remaining friends. Update: The change has since been confirmed by the Facebook Twitter account.

Facebook redesigned its instant messaging system last month such that instead of showing the online status of all of a user’s friends, it only showed around 20 of a user’s closest or most recently interacted with friends. The only way to determine the online status of other friends was search. Some users complained, and we wrote an article discussing the merits of being able to easily Chat with all friends, even distant acquaintances.

The change will allow users to quickly start conversations with the friends they Chat with most, but still be able to send Chats to the rest of their friends without conducting time consuming individual searches. The modification also shows Facebook is listening to feedback on product changes, despite some believing it ignores its users.

Typically when Facebook changes its interface, a small but vocal minority denounces it and demands Facebook revert to an older version. Often it’s not so much that the functionality is worse, but that it’s different than users are accustomed to and they don’t want to adopt a new behavior pattern. But with so many users and a readily available medium for sharing their discontent, a fraction of the user base can make it seem like there is larger disapproval.

Facebook has come to expect this, giving users time to adjust and looking at the actual usage data before considering whether additional changes are necessary. It famously watched hundreds of thousands of users protest the addition of the news feed to the home page, only to see it become one of the site’s most popular features.

In this case, though, press criticism, analysis of the design, and possibly the data pointed to users preferring the option to see the online status of all of their friends without having to search one-by-one. Users now get the best parts of both the old design and recent redesign: prominent access to their closest friends alongside options to scroll through all their friends and search for particular ones.

The re-redesign should be especially helpful for users with large numbers of friends that had many hidden from view in the previous design. It will help users reconnect with those they don’t interact with often, and make it easier to know who could be invited to an ad hoc group chat.

Users may also notice a new mobile phone icon next to some friends. This indicates that person is available to chat via Facebook’s new standalone push notification-delivered group chat iPhone and Android app Facebook Messenger, or the Chat-enabled primary Facebook mobile apps like Facebook for iPhone or BlackBerry. The icon will help users determine that it may be better to send shorter, simple messages rather than links or attachments that are more difficult to consume via mobile device.

The addition of “More Online Friends” to Chat should serve to improve Facebook’s relations with its users. It could rally users to be more vocal about future redesigns in hopes of attaining a similar outcome, but at least they know Facebook isn’t deaf to the opinions of those it serves.

[Thanks to Kevin Evanetski for being the first to tip us to this.]

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