Thursday, September 15, 2011

Google+ Features are taken by Facebook now - Read to know

Facebook may be way ahead in terms of membership, but it's been lagging in usability. Its latest design tweak is the ability to organize friends into lists -- a lot like Google+'s vaunted Circles. Actually, the list feature isn't new, but Facebook is now kickstarting the process, automatically organizing friends according to a few basic criteria, and enabling separate news feeds for each list.

Facebook has been rolling out a slew of changes and new options, one of the latest being its so-called smart friend lists. This feature creates lists of a user's friends, automatically based on such criteria as work, school, family and city. Users do have some control -- they can opt out entirely. Or they can use the automatically generated lists to add friends -- without, Facebook promises, a lot of effort.

Each of the lists has its own News Feed, where the user can see photos, status updates and other posts from the people on the list. Facebook has placed the Lists section on the left side of the homepage.

Users can also share items with their specific lists, leaving out the wider audience. This is done by clicking on the dropdown audience selector in the sharing tool and selecting a list.

Other niceties: Users can continue using lists they may already have created. Also, no one is able to see list titles.

Sincerest Form of Flattery

If this sounds awfully like the functionality in Google+, that's because it is. Facebook is widely acknowledged to finally have met a competitor in the social networking space in the form of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) social networking product rolled out earlier this summer.

"Facebook's new smart lists are a shot across the bow of Google+'s Circles -- make no mistake about that," 
"Ever since Google has introduced Plus, it is obvious that it was a wake-up call to Facebook in the context of usability design," said Hyun-Yeul Lee, an assistant professor at Boston University.

"Certainly, Facebook's recent add-on features are copying design or user interface features from Plus that they missed out on,"

The Bigger Picture

However, to boil the new feature down to merely competitive fear on the part of Facebook would be too simplistic.

"What Facebook seems to be doing here is creating opportunities for average users to share more content," Schott said.

Facebook's Heavy Hand

One possible drawback to smart friends is the automatic creation of the lists. Facebook has gotten a reputation for having a tyrannical attitude toward its user base -- implementing changes with little or no notice, and rarely requesting feedback. It has been lambasted repeatedly for playing fast and loose with users' privacy.

Some of this was just clumsiness on Facebook's part, according to Schott.

"Facebook does seem to come with a 'better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission' way of doing things on almost all fronts -- and that's by design," he said. "When you're dealing with 700 million users, it's not plausible to make everyone happy, so Facebook has pushed updates that simplify the user experience for the majority of its users."

Also, there is something to the argument Facebook is making with its introduction of smart lists, Jonathan Kopp, partner and global director at Ketchum Digital.

"Facebook used to enable users to sort their friends into lists, but adoption hovered at about 5 percent or less. The simple reason is, it was a tedious chore to manually sort your contacts.

Already Behind?

With Facebook inching closer to the Google+ model, it is fair to ask if newbie Google+ has already seen its day.

Not hardly, said Lee. While Facebook's strength is its massive user base, it still needs to think bigger in terms of how social connectivity will look in the near future.

"Facebook is giving an aesthetic facelift to usability," she said, "but lacks the long-term vision that Plus has."

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