I’ve said previously that grouping of friends within Facebook was an inevitable new feature because of the very logic of the service, and that this would substantially aid Facebook’s effort to edge out LinkedIn as the place for both professional and personal networking. If Facebook wants to accurately represent the “social graph” it needs to enable users to account for the fact that some friends are closer than others.
Facebook users got some great news just before Christmas (and in my family time off, with three straight days of Christmas visitors I haven’t been blogging, so I’m just getting around to writing about it.) Facebook has implemented the first phase of friend grouping, and it’s really well done.
Applications like “Top Friends” and “Circle of Friends” are fine, but the problem is they are out there for everyone to see. So if you add someone to a group using one of those applications, everyone who has access to your profile can see who is in what groups.
The best thing about the new baked-in friend grouping in Facebook is that it’s private. I’ve created five new friend groups, for example, but they’re only visible to me. So I can organize my Facebook friends in a way that makes sense to me, which enables me to have various spheres that reflect the reality of how close we are.
The other neat new part of the Facebook friend grouping is the ability to send a group message to everyone in the group. Here’s a message I sent earlier today to my Family friends.
I found through sending this message that when you send a message to a group, every recipient sees the name of every other recipient. They don’t necessarily find out the name of the group list you’ve created, but they can “reply all” to all of the other members.
So, in essence, this is a great way to create a messaging distribution list, to take advantage of the spam-fighting features of Facebook. It makes it more realistic to rely on Facebook as a messaging alternative to email.
The even better news about this development of variable friend grouping in Facebook is that now we know there will be further enhancements related to these groups. As Mark Slee concluded his post in the Facebook blog:
This is just a start. Expect to see lots of new Friend Lists features in 2008 that will give you more control over the information you share on Facebook and who you share it with.
When this becomes reality, and when we can truly segregate the personal from the professional within Facebook so that professional friends won’t have complete access to our personal lives, then we will see Facebook achieve its goal of being the one-stop social utility. Then, as Nick says, sites like LinkedIn will find the competition much more difficult.