Facebook adds Smart Lists to categorize friends

Facebook made some pretty huge privacy changes last month, which included introducing tag approval and better controls over how information is shared with specific groups. This month, the social network is revealing even more tools to help users automatically categorize their friends, control who views the content they post, and allow users to decide whose status updates and photos they see the most and least.

The biggest change that being introduced Tuesday is to friend lists, with a new feature called Smart Lists. Friend lists, or the ability to group people by how you know them (college, work, family), and only share certain information with certain groups, were introduced three years ago. But Facebook knows that having to go back and categorize how you know people and manually adding them to a list is, well, tedious.

“It’s pretty silly that I have to sit down for an afternoon and categorize these people by hand,” said Facebook product manager Blake Ross.┬áSo they’re going to do it for you.

Many people on Facebook already share information that makes it easy to group people by, such as where they went to school, where they work and where they live. So Smart Lists will automatically group your Facebook friends in these different categories: family, city, high school, college and work. All the people in your feed who listed that they went to your same high school or college will automatically be added to those feeds, and all the people who list where they work will be added to your work friends group.

The point of enhancing this feature is to take the task of categorizing your Facebook friends off your plate when the information is already there, says Facebook. Once that’s done, you can then decide whether to share a certain status message or photo with a particular group via the dropdown menu in the status bar introduced last month.

The new Smart Lists are also customizable after Facebook has set them for you. Most importantly, you can turn Smart Lists off altogether if you want to. But if Facebook has added, say, your brother’s ex-wife to your family Smart List, you can always remove her from that list permanently. And if it adds friends to your college Smart List that are, for instance, 30 years older than you, but also happen to have gone to your same college, you can fix that too. Just specify what age group of your school’s graduates from your friend lists you want on there.

The end goal is to help people to be selective about who they share with. “I don’t have to share every bit of information will all of my friends,” said Ross.

Facebook is also acknowledging that you don’t necessarily want to read every single bit of information that all of your Facebook friends share either. So it is introducing the ability to group people as “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances.”

You can add the 10 or 15 people from whom you want to see all of their status updates, pictures, events, etc. to Close Friends. People you know, but you don’t want to see the minutiae of their life, are good to add to Acquaintances. Of these people, you’ll only see major life events show up in your news feed, like when they get married, move cities and list a new job.

These groups won’t be automatically generated like Smart Lists; these you will have to do yourself. Once you’ve put them together though, they will show up in your left rail and you can click them to get a news feed of just close friends or just acquaintances. This will be familiar to those who’ve been using Google+.

You can then share specific information with these lists as well. Facebook says it will not tell people they’ve been added to a list, but it will show them the other people a status or picture has been shared with, which Facebook says is to provide “more context.” This is in line with comments Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made earlier this summer, when he criticized the Google+ “circles” concept because people never know what circle, or group, they’ve been added to. “The definition of groups is … everyone inside the group knows who else is in the group,” he said at the time.

Ross said these changes will begin to roll out Wednesday, and most users should see the changes to their account in the next two weeks.