Today, in the buildup to its f8 conference, Facebook is rolling out another key new feature: a one-way follow model called Subscriptions. It’s sort of like Twitter, sort of like Google+, and it massages one of the service’s biggest pain points for users who have a lot of friends (or who want to share their status updates broadly).
Here’s how it works. As you browse around the site, you’ll notice that some users have a button at the top of their profile that says ‘Subscribe’. Click it, and you’ll start seeing that user’s status updates in your News Feed, just as if you were their Facebook friend. But there’s a big difference: unlike normal Facebook friends, the people you subscribe to don’t have to approve your subscription request, and there’s no limit on how many people can subscribe to any given user.
Facebook says the feature will appeal to anyone looking to reach a broader audience, like journalists, artists, and political figures. To start sharing your own posts publicly, head to the new tab beneath your profile photo that says Subscriptions. Click it, and you’ll have the option to broadcast your public updates to anyone who has subscribed to you. Note that you’ll only syndicate updates that are marked Public; updates shared with Friend Lists won’t be seen by your subscribers.
Of course, Facebook has offered a similar feature called Pages for years now, which was meant for nearly the same thing (you’ll find that many journalists and politicians have already created Facebook Pages… because that’s what Facebook told them to do). The difference here, Facebook says, is that users no longer have to maintain two separate entities; they can just use the site’s sharing settings to decide which content they want to share very broadly, and what will only be shared with friends.
Facebook adds that this isn’t the end of Pages by any means — they say that feature will still appeal to brands and major celebrities, because Pages can be managed by multiple admins and can be customized with applications. Pages also offer Insights (Facebook’s analytics tool), whereas Subscriptions don’t.
Fortunately, Facebook is allowing users to merge their Pages with their profiles, so you don’t have to rebuild your audience if you want to use the Subscription feature.
In addition to Subscriptions, Facebook is also making it easier to tweak the amount and types of content that show up your News Feed. Now, when you’re viewing a user’s profile, you’ll be able to hit a button and choose from three subscription settings:
All updates: Everything your friend posts • Most updates: The amount you’d normally see • Important updates only: Just highlights, like a new job or move
You’ll also be able to choose what kinds of content you want to see (for example, you could opt to block all game-related updates from one of your friends, but keep their photo updates).
Once again, this is a feature that shares similarities with the recently-launched Google+. Google+ employs a one-way friending system, where anyone can start following anyone else, without requiring their approval. And, obviously, Twitter popularized one-way following in the first place. The big difference here from Twitter is that Facebook’s News Feed algorithms still apply, so you won’t be seeing every update from every user you’ve subscribed to (unless you manually adjust the aforementioned settings to do so).