Bloomberg News

Facebook Automates Friend Lists to Rival New Google Service

September 13, 2011

(Updates with analyst’s comment in fifth paragraph

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social network, is simplifying tools to automate lists of friends who can see posts and photos as it steps up competition with a new rival service from Google Inc.

So-called Smart Lists, set to debut this week, will generate groups of friends for Facebook users based on common attributes in their profiles such as a family, city, school or employer, said Mike Schroepfer, vice president of engineering. The optional feature eliminates the need to create lists from scratch, and also lets members be manually added or deleted.

“You have all sorts of different shades of gray in terms of how you interact with people,” Schroepfer said. “We wanted to make sure the product had a richer set of tools to allow people to control that experience.”

Facebook is adding functions to keep users on the site amid competition for Web surfers’ attention from rivals including Google+, which had about 29 million users at the end of July, according to ComScore Inc. Google+ debuted in June to take on Facebook with streamlined sharing options linked to circles of friends most likely to want an image or message, such as family or fans of a certain sports team.

“This is clearly aimed directly at Google+,” said Josh Bernoff, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in an interview. “This may blunt the Google+ desire a little bit, but managing lists has historically been a little challenging on Facebook and I’m not sure this will fix that.”

‘Close Friends’

Palo Alto, California-based Facebook, with more than 750 million users, originally rolled out a Friend List feature in 2007. The company is now refining tools to manually create lists such as “close friends” or “acquaintances.” While users will see all posts, such as photos or messages, from close friends in the feed, they’ll see less from acquaintances.

Users can create a restricted list, such as friends from college or high school a decade ago, enabling them to only see public posts.

They can also use Smart Lists to automatically generate a list of all their friends who attended the same university identified in their profile.

The added features come after the company strengthened privacy settings to give users more control over who views messages, photos and other shared items. Facebook began placing many of the privacy controls next to content that can be shared, instead of in a separate section that is harder to find.

--Editors: Lisa Rapaport, Jillian Ward

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net.


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