Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Facebook Lists – good for you? Good for Facebook

When dealing with big brands, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And so it is with Facebook Lists. Let’s take a look at Lists from the other side, starting with a short overview.

Facebook Lists?

This week, Facebook has rolled out a number of feature enhancements; one of these is an upgraded Lists functionality. If you haven’t seen them yet, don’t worry, not all accounts have been upgraded. As is the Facebook way, they are releasing the functionality out to groups of users at a time.

Facebook Smart Lists

Facebook Smart Lists help you to organise your friends and control what they see

The new lists appear on the left-hand side of your profile, and consist of ‘Smart Lists’ and the old-style lists. As standard, Facebook will create a ‘Close Friends’ list and an ‘Acquaintances’ list which you can populate as you like, but its the ‘Smart Lists’ that are more interesting. ‘Smart Lists’ are created for you based on your profile. The more information you’ve filled out in your profile, the more lists are created. In my case I got the following:

  1. People who live near me – this is based on your current location, in a nice touch you can adjust the radius from your home in which friends can be considered ‘near you’
  2. One list for each company I have worked for – I have three companies listed, so three lists
  3. One list for each school or university I attended – once again, three lists (high school, college, university)
  4. Family – this is based on the information you have entered for relations in your profile

Facebook uses these list in a number of ways, but primarily they are used to prioritise your news feed. With the introduction of subscriptions last week your news feed has suddenly become a lot more busy, so these lists are a welcome addition that should mean that you can see your close friends updates before the ones from the celebrity you followed yesterday (Robert Scoble, I’m looking at you…). When a new status update is posted in any of the lists, a small notifier appears next to its name, so its easy to see which groups are posting and when.

Overall, it looks like lists are good news for you, the humble consumer.

But you said it was good for Facebook?

You’re right, I did. And so it is.

When the ‘Smart Lists’ are first created it will fill them up with as many people as it can by matching their profiles to yours. So if both you and your friend have listed the same company as your current workplace, your friend will appear in the company smart list. But of course, not everybody fills out their profile with the same level of diligence, so Facebook kindly makes some suggestions of people you could add to this ‘Smart List’.

When you click the Add button, Facebook will add the friend to the list and then send them an email asking them if they want to add the company name to their profile too.

Let’s have a think about that.

Every time you add a Friend, Facebook gets them to – hopefully – update their profile with another little bit of information.

Time for some very rough maths, and not in a hunky tough kind of way.

Facebook has 750 million accounts. Let’s assume that 20% of the accounts uses the lists and each account adds 20% of their friends to a list. A user has 130 friends on average, so that’s 26. Let’s also assume that out of that 26,  5 friends actually go ahead and update their profile as suggested. By my calculations, that’s 3,749,850,000 new items of data added to Facebook’s ever-growing data store. Even if 50% of those friends overlap, that’s still a huge number. And every piece of information they have allows them to target ads that little bit better.

For a company that makes it’s money from advertising, that’s a real boon. As Mashable’s article this morning points out, Facebook’s primary focus for the next 12 months isn’t revenue, but I’d say that this isn’t a bad way to start.