Facebook now lets you ‘follow’ strangers, Twitter and Google+ style

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Facebook has added a subscribe button that lets you follow people’s public updates regardless whether or not you’re friends with them. This new button follows in the style Twitter and Google+.

Facebook claims the subscribe button will give users more control over their News Feed in terms of what and how much of their friends content they see.

“Until now, it hasn’t been easy to choose exactly what you see in your News Feed. Maybe you don’t want to see every time your brother plays a game on Facebook, for example. Or maybe you’d like to see more stories from your best friends, and fewer from your coworkers,” says Facebook software engineer, Zach Rait.

The new button allows you to subscribe to the public feeds of people you are interested in but aren’t friends with, including journalists, politicians, and public figures. This form of asymmetrical relationship is what has made Twitter, and now Google+, so successful and has long eluded Facebook.

“Google+ was a major wake-up call for Facebook,” said analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group in Silicon Valley. “They were awakened to the fact that they could be another MySpace; so they suddenly got very aggressive on moving the ball forward so they couldn’t get caught.”

The addition of this new button could indeed be seen as a response the phenomenal growth of Google+. Google’s new social network combines aspects of Facebook and Twitter, and has allowed users to share their lives online in way that reflect levels of confidentiality granted in real life.

A criticism frequently levelled at Facebook has been that updates are shared with all of a user’s friends unless they have gone through the relatively complicated process of refining their privacy settings. The Subscribe button hopes to help resolve all of that.

“If you’d like to share your public updates with more than just friends, you can get a Subscribe button on your profile, too. People who subscribe to you will get posts you set as “Public” in their News Feeds. This is an entirely optional feature — you need to opt in,” says Rait.

To allow people to subscribe to your Facebook feed, go to the Subscriptions Page and click “Allow Subscribers”. You can also decide who can comment and what notifications you receive from Facebook.

People can select an “all updates” setting or opt to be shown “most updates” or “important updates only,” such as marriages or job changes.

Much like Twitter, the number of people subscribing to your public feed and the number of people you’re subscribed to will now appear on your profile.

This is not the only change the social network has made in the last few days. Facebook recently introduced “smart lists” that automatically sort friends into categories and prioritise news in order of importance.

“This is really something we have been working on for four years,” Facebook director of product management Blake Ross said. “We think this is the way people will make lists going forward.”

Facebook’s smart lists let each member create a list of high-priority people who are “closer to them than anyone else in the world” or “acquaintances” whose posts they don’t want to see very often.

when it launched, Google+ stressed the ability it gives users to separate online friends and family into different “Circles,” or networks, and to share information only with members of a particular circle.

“I think you are going to see Facebook be much more aggressive,” Enderle said. “They are focused on maintaining a competitive edge right now.”

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