One feature that helped differentiate Google+ from Facebook is Circles, the function that lets users assign friends, family, colleagues and others to different groups.
Facebook, which has long had Friend Lists and last fall launched its Groups feature to assign users to groups, launched more granular sharing tools to target specific groups of people with which to share information.
“Want to see posts from your closest friends? Or perhaps you’d like to share a personal story with your family-without also telling all your co-workers. With improved Friend Lists, you can easily see updates from and share with different lists of friends,” explained Facebook product manager Blake Ross, who created the Mozilla Firefox browser.
One of the pains involved with lists is, well, creating them and keeping them up-to-date. Ross and his team created “Smart lists,” which create themselves and stay up-to-date based on profile information a user’s friends have in common.
Facebook’s Smart Lists include work, school, family and city. Friends who attended the same college or work for the same company would instantly appear on a smart list, which will have its own News Feed of photos, status updates and other posts from the people on the list. Users may also manually add or subtract names from their smart lists.
Also new to Friend Lists are close friends and acquaintances lists, which will show status updates and pictures from best friends in one place. Users must manually populate these lists, similar to the way they add or subtract contacts to Circles on Google+.
To facilitate sharing among users on lists, Ross made it clear that people on lists will be able to see each other’s names. “For example, if I see that a post is shared with my five closest friends, I am much more likely to comment freely on it than I would be if I didn’t know who else could see the post,” Ross said.
No doubt, users will try to push for some privacy measure concerning this feature.
Facebook has also improved its friend suggestions feature, which would help users who may have inadvertently left some friends off their lists. Moreover, when a user adds someone as a friend or confirms a friendship request, the user will be able to add the friend to any of their existing lists.
Sometimes users don’t want to share information with others, even if they want to be friends with them, on Facebook. The social network is offering a Restricted list. Users on this list will only see another users’ public posts. This is particularly helpful for users who are friends with their boss or other superiors and colleagues on Facebook.
Facebook may or may not have been prompted by the Google+ Circles construct to improve its Friend Lists. Google+ has an acquaintance Circle, though “close friends” is a new category.
Moreover, Google+ doesn’t have automatic listing functionality-yet. While some will claim Facebook is copying Google+ functionality, it’s quite likely Google+ will add its own form of smart lists to make friending and sharing information easier.
With Facebook having 750 million users worldwide, compared with 30 million or so Google+ users, it’s much more important for Google to keep pace with Facebook than vice versa.