Friend Lists, of course, have been available on Facebook for years now. But most people never bother with them because they’re a total pain — scrolling through hundreds upon hundreds of friends to compile lists is just a chore without much immediate reward. But Facebook thinks this new feature will change that, at least for some users.
The feature, which I’ve been briefed on but haven’t gotten a chance to test out myself, works much as you’d expect. First, Facebook will generate a handful of lists automatically — one for your coworkers, one for people you attended school with, and one for friends who live within the same city as you. That’s a good start, and it’s also easy to make lists of your own. Facebook says that if you create a new list and add a few friends, the site will automatically suggest additional friends that it believes belong in the same list.
Finally, there’s one list, adorned with a star, that highlights your very best friends. Facebook won’t automatically suggest anyone for this list — the company thinks users will only want to include five or ten people, and that it’s best to leave it to users to choose them. And the list has a special property: every time someone on this list of close friends makes an update or posts a photo, you’ll see it in your feed no matter how small a change it is, and you’ll (optionally) get a notification about it (notifications are those alerts marked with a red badge at the top of the screen).
And there’s a new list called Acquaintances that also has special properties, but in reverse: add someone to it, and only the most important status changes (marriages, new jobs, etc.) will appear in your News Feed; you’ll ignore their day to day posts.
Once you’ve created your new friend lists, you’ll be able to use them the same way you’ve always been able to: namely, you can selectively share content with certain groups, and you can change permissions on your profile visibility for each list.
Today’s launch will doubtless draw some comparisons to Google+, which has a strong emphasis on sorting your friends into Circles, which are analogous to Facebook’s friend lists. But despite that emphasis, Facebook has actually beaten Google+ to the punch on recommending who you put into these groups — Google+ is great at surfacing people you might be interested in following, but it doesn’t yet do much to help you sort them.