On the heels of its announcement about Smart Lists, Facebook is giving users more options for sharing and managing their content, including letting individuals share public content with people who “subscribe” to their feeds rather than “friend” them.
The most important change is probably the introduction of a “Subscribe” button to each user’s profile. (This affects only real people, not Pages, and brands and companies should continue to use Pages, Facebook says.) If a user chooses to “Subscribe,” they will begin to see all of that person’s public updates in their news feed, without that person having to confirm the friendship — though people can block subscribers and control who comments on their updates. There’s no limit to how many subscribers a person can have, meaning the change helps overcome the criticism that Facebook has gotten for having a 5000 friend maximum. To take advantage of this, users need to change their settings to allow subscribers at facebook.com/about/subscriptions. It’s not clear whether the “Subscribe” option, like the “Like” option, will be distributed to web pages outside of Facebook.
This changes the dynamic of the Facebook relationship, in that it can be a more one-way publishing and consuming experience, like Twitter or Google+, rather than a two-way exchange. Many public figures, such as celebrities, journalists, politicians and the like, have been using separate Pages for their public personae, but this will allow people to manage both friend relationships and public posts from the same interface. The change also builds upon recent Facebook changes that allow users to indicate whether posts should be public, or to friends only, as they compose the posts.
“The bottom line is that public figures will now have two options. They can use whatever works better for their needs,” Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s director of product, told me. Folks that have multiple people posting to their Pages, or benefit from the analytics associated with Pages, can continue to use Pages. Others can make public updates to subscribers via their personal profiles.
Facebook has accompanied the introduction of the Subscribe button with other features that allow more fine-tuning of what appears in a user’s news feed. Besides taking advantage of the already-introduced smart lists, users will now also be able to select, friend by friend, what they see. Options include to see everything a person posts, to see most of what a person posts, to see important updates only, or to see only certain types of content. This would allow someone to block games-related posts from a friend who plays a lot of Facebook games, for example, but see everything posted by a best friend.
“This makes sense because you don’t care about all your friends the same,” said Gleit.
Facebook stresses that it isn’t necessary for users to do anything — they can simply ignore the Subscribe button — if they want to keep their news feed the same.
This worldwide change will begin to be rolled out this afternoon and will appear in everyone’s account over the next few days and weeks.