Facebooks creates Circl... err "Lists" for you automatically now, which control who you share with. You can still manually create lists, as well.  (Source: Facebook)

You can share stories selectively with particular lists.  (Source: Facebook)

You can also place a "subscribe" button on your page allowing your friends and acquaintances to cyberstalk you better.  (Source: Facebook)

Facebook now decides for you what friend feeed stories are important, and which aren't. If you log in infrequently, it hides recent stories, showing only the top ones at the front of the feed.  (Source: Facebook)
Disgruntled users flood Facebook's blog with protests, are rewarded with thumbs up

Facebook would never admit it, but Larry Page and company must be getting a bit under their skin.  With Google Inc.'s (GOOG) release of Google+, Facebook has a legitimate international contender for the first time in years.  While it still enjoys a massive lead, it's clearly a bit concerned, as it's made a series of sweeping changes which bring your friends and feeds a bit closer to Google+'s Circles and sharing.

I. Facebook: "Scared About Google Plus's Circles"?

Last week Facebook announced [press release] new friends lists.  The feature automatically grabs lists of your friends who currently go to the same school as you, work at the same employer as you, or are in your family.  

A "Close Friends" list was also added, which is left for the user to populate.  This is similar to past lists in terms of sharing, but adds extra filtering to feed stories, so you can be sure to see all the posts from your "Close Friends".  People in the list (like other lists) can't see the title of the list, but they will see each other's names.

When you add friends you can now manually pre-insert them into one of these lists.  And just like Google's "Circles", you can now choose from any of your lists when you share stuff in the news feed to limit it to those people.

The comments about the changes were pretty mocking.  Joaco Ponferrada writes, "Somebody got scared about Google Plus's Circles...." while Jump Bostero adds, "This is Facebook+?"

Also last week Facebook offered [press release] users the ability to place a "Subscribe" button on their profile pages.  Friends can click this button and automatically be treated to all your updates in wonderful detail.  The feature is opt-in.  It seems somewhat redundant with the "Closest Friends" list, but perhaps it's for someone you're following/cyber-stalking who isn't really a close friend.

II. Facebook Decides Which Updates are "Top Stories", Users Grow Irate

But the most controversial change came on Monday of this week, when Facebook overhauled its news updates.  Facebook's Mark Tonkelowitz writes in a press release that the overhaul makes the feed more friendly to infrequent visitors.

Basically, if you haven't logged in for a while, you'll now be treated to what Facebook has deemed are your friend's "top stories".  This bumps any stories that don't get the distinction farther down the page.

Frequent users do get the option of seeing newer stories, via a expandable "SEE xxx NEW STORIES" bar, which hovers above the top stories.

Facebook also has added a real-time "Ticker" (think Twitter) above the notifications area, which shares updates from friends in real time, giving users even less time to remove embarrassing posts (but giving them the joy of instantly notifying all their friends about the latest thing their kitten/child did).

Users weren't very happy about these changes.  Writes Brandi Genest Weeks:

Lame. Quite frankly I don't want Facebook deciding who is most important in my life. I want my news feed to just go chronologically and if I want to hide posts from someone, I will. Stop changing. You're becoming MySpace and I left there for a reason.

Fiona Robinson comments:

NOOOO! I STILL want "most recent" at the top like it used to be, so we have the OPTION of seeing what has been posted most recently instead of what Facebook deems a "top story". This is total garbage. It's been two weeks since I got this "new feed" and I'm closer and closer to ditching to G+ where they ACTUALLY listen to user feedback! I've complained everywhere possible and haven't gotten a single helpful response. Geez, guys. Usability should be a main concern, and you're kind of sucking at it.

And Raymond J. Schlogel remarks:

Facebook, you're not near as smart as you think you are. Your algorithms for deciding what I want to see, who I want to talk to or what I think is important are 99.999% of the time the exact polar opposite of what I want. Everything you do to try to simplify things only complicates things more. Every attempt you make to improve things inevitably ends up in a HUGE step backwards. Take for example the new way Facebook displays pictures when clicked on that now appear initially as a compressed blurry mess reminiscent of the internet circa 1990. Something as simple as a Friend Request is now just a headache of options. The chat, instead of just showing everybody that's online now is broken up into segments that YOU GUESS I want to talk to, more often than not displaying many that I rarely want to chat with and many that aren't even online. Do I have the option to just display everyone that IS online? Nope, because as history has taught us Facebook isn't about viewing or doing things that I want, it's about Facebook coming up with some ludicrous idea of how things "should" be and than ramming it down it's users throats. I echo the sentiments of others that have cited that it is this kind of mentality that killed MySpace, a reminder that Facebook should never consider themselves "too big to fail." You're not.

These commenters appeared to be speaking for the majority as their comments have the most thumbs up.  However, there was an equally noisy minority who supported Facebook's changes.  As one might expect, the conversations soon grew quite antagonistic.

Flame wars aside, it is striking how much Facebook is revamping its interface in ways users haven't really been asking for, by and large.  Meanwhile it's neglected aspects that many users feel are broken, such as the "Chat" interface.  

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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