Facebook Goes Lumpy and Granular with Privacy, Demos IM

facebookprivacy.jpgFacebook debuted tools for item-by-item and friend-by-friend privacy settings at a media briefing at its Palo Alto headquarters on Tuesday. Perhaps more important than the granularity, the service will expand existing tools for users to lump friends into groups (“friend lists”) so they can include and exclude them from certain photo sets, applications, events, profile information, and other items on the site. The products will launch sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. The company also showed off some upcoming in-browser instant messaging features.

The new privacy tools are “just a personal management thing,” said Naomi Gleit, a Facebook product manager. “The people who are on my friend lists are not aware that they’re on my friend lists.”

Facebook users could previously limit sharing by the networks they are involved in (i.e. their school, company, or geographic area). Now they will be able to limit by friend, friend-of-a-friend, and more specific groups. Before, users could create friend lists but there was not much of a purpose for them. Now, users will be able to use these friend lists to more easily choose with which people they like to share their personal information and activities . Users could also create limited profiles, a blanket setting that would block certain friends from seeing certain info. With the new launch, the list of people given the limited profile will be grouped together in a block friend list so they behave like the rest of the new privacy settings.

Another product manger, Peter Deng, demoed Facebook’s upcoming chat feature, which will launch “in the next coming weeks.” The product is extremely basic, limited only to Facebook friends. A list of friends who are currently logged in to the service rides alongside a user’s browser window. Once a chat is initiated it persists in the window as the user navigates the site. Chats can also be minimized into tabs alongside the bottom of the page. Deng said the site is considering Jabber integration (so users could take their Facebook IM buddy lists elsewhere) and API support, but said such developments would be a ways off, if at all. “Our intention is definitely not to make Facebook an island,” added Matt Cohler, the company’s vice president of product management.