Speculation: Facebook adding Friend Lists; implications for Top Friends, LinkedIn?

We knew it would happen, we just didn’t know it might happen this soon.

I just received a tip from top application developer Trey Philips that Facebook has added two new undocumented functions to its API Test Console this evening that appear to reference an as-yet-unreleased feature called “Friend Lists.”

The two new API methods are:

  • friends.getLists
  • friends.getListsMembers

Based on these method names, “Friend Lists” could be buddy lists that you might use to organize your friends. For example, “Work Friends” or, say… “Top Friends”.

If these are indeed upcoming features of the Facebook Platform, I think this has two major implications:

1. This could dramatically simplify privacy controls. Right now, users manage privacy settings per-feature or by managing their Limited Profile list. The addition of Friend Lists means one can now much more flexibly and powerfully manage privacy settings per List. Work friends see one portion of your profile, personal friends see another, best friends see yet another.

This will be a welcome change for everyone whose LinkedIn networks have migrated to Facebook. Consequently, this could mean accelerated LinkedIn attrition: per-Friend-List privacy settings could substantially decrease the need of many to actively maintain their LinkedIn accounts as well.

2. More significant, this would mark the first time Facebook has moved to directly compete with a top Platform application. The dynamics here are more complex: Slide, maker of Top Friends, the #1 application on Facebook with over 13 million users, is now the owner of a social graph one third the size of the entire Facebook population, and arguably poses some threat to Facebook.

Is Friend Lists functionally similar to Top Friends? If so, how will Facebook promote Friend Lists within the core user experience? Does this mean that Facebook wants to compete with its most successful Platform applications?

As more information comes to light on Friend Lists, more clarity will be gained on both the privacy control and platform owner/developer dynamic questions. For now, these potential new API features should certainly raise some developer eyebrows.