September 3rd, 2010
Facebook is testing out another way of keeping track of your friends or Pages: an option to “subscribe to” them, then see all of their updates within your notifications list, accessible at the top of the Facebook interface. The feature, at least as it has appeared in the wild, could be especially useful if there’s a few people or Pages you want to keep extra close track of. That’s if Facebook decides to launch it for all users in the same form.
Facebook grew based on the concept of reciprocal “friending.” If you become friends with someone, you’ll start seeing their updates in your news feed; if you really want to track a person or small group of people, you can create a List showing just their shared items. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, and most of them have seemed intent on sharing that information with those friends — and yet, as the service grows, and as competitors like Twitter have emerged, perhaps the communication paradigm is changing?
Recognizing a potential competitive threat, Facebook has been dabbling in the Twitter-esque “follow” concept for years.
For example, if you “Like” a Page or any object on Facebook’s Open Graph, it can start sharing content to your news feed as well — but it won’t follow you back just because you Liked it, similar to how a Twitter account won’t follow you back automatically.
We heard in March of 2009, around the time that Facebook was most focused on competing against Twitter, that it was planning to offer an asynchronous follow option for friends as well (others have been hearing about similar projects, too). But the feature has never quite materialized that way. What did emerge, beginning that April, was a way to subscribe to friends’ and Pages’ status updates via SMS, so you could track each one by phone. As with the test today, that feature is most useful for people who want to keep close tabs on a few close friends or interesting Pages. In a sense, “subscribe to” is the new, web-based iteration of those text updates.
It’s possible that Facebook will go further with the “subscribe to” concept. Some people have requested both a “friend” and “follow” option for each user, creating a two-tier privacy setting where you could either share information with just friends, or share it with all of your followers — from our understanding, this is basically what Facebook was considering last year, and has so far mostly decided against. However, in general, we do expect Facebook to continue to test different iterations of non-reciprocal subscriptions.
[Images via All Facebook]