That’s the sound of Google+ and Facebook slugging it out for our continued patronage.
If you’re not a geek then you could be forgiven for not knowing much about Google+. It’s a brand new social medium which takes the best from Twitter and Facebook and rolls into a really flexible “life stream thingy” (that’s patented). It allows you to manage your friends into ‘circles’ and you can then share status updates, videos, links, etc with the whole web (public) or specific circles or even a fellow user or two. It’s a great interface that gives you a lot of control over who can see your errant ramblings on the weather and laborious discussions on what you had for dinner the previous night. That’s the blue corner.
In the red corner is the giant hulking beast Facebook. It seems like it’s been around for ever and nearly everyone in the world has an account and even some of their pets. It’s undergone a lot of interface changes over the years but none so dramatic as the recent update which totally changes its structure from a friend-to-friend walled garden to something more pragmatic and open.
In fact, Facebook want you to start posting publicly to the whole web and spend less time communicating with friends in private. The new controls closely follow Google+ in that you can select to share your stuff with friends, friends of friends, specific lists or the whole web.
The key point about “the whole web” is that anyone can read your updates even if they are not your friend on Facebook. To make it more convenient, you can now allow people to subscribe to your public updates even if they are not your friend. More on that in a minute.
All these changes push you to share more to a wider audience and to encourage you to start subscribing to people who are not your friend. Currently, a lot of celebrities have Facebook pages so they can interact with their fans without exposing their private updates. With this new model, they can allow people to subscribe directly to their Facebook account and select which updates to share with their subscribers. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg is doing just that: he’s converting his fan page fans into subscribers.
So, you’re now subscribed to every famous person you can think of. Your friends are still posting Farmville updates and talking about the weather. How do you cope with all that noise in your news feed? Well, Facebook have considered this already and have turned your old list of status updates in reverse chronological order into a little hub of recent activity. It uses its own algorithms to select “top news” and will show you most of what your friends are posting.
Hate! Hate! Hate!
I must admit, my first reaction to this new change wasn’t great.
A quick scan through my friends revealed the same “I HATE THIS!” feeling. Everything changed in a blink of an eye. Facebook was telling me what it thought I should read! How dare it! Sulkily, I just wanted my old list of status updates in reverse chronological order. Most of my friends shared the same opinion.
Lists to the rescue!
Then I discovered lists and realised that you can still have this format. I wrote a quick blog about this last night. In short, you can set up a new list and add friends and pages. When you then view this list you get the updates in reverse chronological order as normal. I would urge you to set up some lists and try them out. It’s a great way of reading updates from people you really want to hear from. It does take a bit of getting used to but I think in the long run it’s a good move by Facebook. You can re-order the lists and even add it to your ‘Favorites’.
If you want to allow subscribers, then all you need to do is view your own profile and select “Subscriptions” from the left hand menu bar.
I think this is a great feature and I’ll definitely be making use of this. It also encroaches on Twitter’s niche by allowing non reciprocal followers.
Give it a try, you might even like it! It’ll definitely promote more activity and more data in your news feed. Just as well you can set up lists to cut through the noise.
So there you have it. Yesterday’s roll-out of the new changes certainly caused some uproar and confusion but once you learn about the subscribers feature and how to manage your lists I think you’ll be surprised at the flexibility you now have in terms of who you can share updates with.
Are you listening Facebook?
I would love a few simple tweaks to the system. First off, I’d like a way to select multiple people when adding friends and pages to a list. Something as simple as shift+click to capture many at once. I also think it would be great to have an “All” list by default and new friends and pages are automatically added to this list. You could even allow it to be the default ‘home’ page. This would appease those who dislike the recent changes.