Facebook Automates, Simplifies Friend Grouping

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Facebook has developed new features designed to make it easier for its members to segment their list of friends into smaller groups and in that way be more granular in how they share and view content.

The move is likely to be seen as the latest reaction by Facebook to the challenge of Google+, the rival social networking site Google designed to improve upon certain areas where Facebook has been considered weak.

Facebook recently upgraded its privacy controls to make them more convenient to use and simpler to understand, improving on an issue for which it has been criticized in the past.

This new functionality addresses another long-standing complaint: that grouping friends has been cumbersome on the site, leading many members to share everything with all of their friends.

"Lists have existed for several years, but you've told us how time-consuming it is to organize lists for different parts of your life and keep them up to date," wrote Facebook official Blake Ross in a blog post on Tuesday.

With this one-two punch, Facebook has quickly responded to the Google+ Circles feature, which has been seen by some as providing an easier and more effective mechanism for grouping friends and controlling privacy access to shared content.

The new Facebook features include Smart lists that the site will assemble automatically on behalf of users, based on information it gleans from profiles, like work, school, family and city. Users can manually add and remove friends from these automated lists.

Facebook will also make available three different buckets of friend types and let members manually sort their contacts into each if they want: Close Friends, Acquaintances and Restricted.

Facebook will display everything Close Friends post, but only some updates from Acquaintances, namely those posts Facebook deems important. Users will also be able to filter out their activity stream to only see posts from Close Friends or from people in other lists.

People placed on the Restricted list will only see the user's Public posts, which can be seen by anyone on Facebook. "You'll still be friends on Facebook so you can send them messages or tag them in a post if you want to connect to them from time to time. It's totally up to you," Ross wrote.

Users will be able to continue using lists they've created, as well as create new custom lists.

When users post updates to a list they've created, the name of the list will remain hidden from the recipients, but they will be able to see the others with which the post was shared.

Facebook will make suggestions of friends to place on different lists.

When users post to their profile, the drop-down menu of options of whom to share with will include all friends lists, in addition to the standard options, like sharing with all friends or with everyone on Facebook (Public).

The new features are being rolled out this week.

Facebook has more than 750 million members, while Google+ remains in limited release, available by invitation only, and is estimated to have about 25 million account holders.

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