Circles vs. Lists: Facebook Still Falls Short

So I caught this blog post this morning as I scanning the day’s tech headlines. In short, it surmises that Facebook is threatening Google+ in a new way by going after the “Circles” concept. The latest Facebook revisions unveiled a new automatic sorting mechanism that segments Friends into Smart Lists: school friends, friends who live close by, and work friends. This supplements the Friends List feature that allows you to group people as Restricted, Acquaintances, or Close Friends. The author of the post implies that because of the increased opportunity for segmentation on Facebook, these changes pose a threat to Google+.

I have to disagree on this one. The Facebook changes leave out two key elements: simplicity and customization.

On Google+, I can create as many Circles as I want, containing as many people as I like, and share my info with one, some, or all Circles. That’s the entire formula. I can create a Circle called That Guy I Have to Stay Networked With Because He Knows My Dad and place a grand total of one person in it. I can choose whether that Circle of one gets to see each post I create with a single click of the mouse. Furthermore, I can put friends in multiple Circles based on shared interests, geography, and more; I’m not limited to Facebook’s three Smart Lists. So if I want to post a super-geeky status about the new Star Wars game coming out, I can share it only with friends who will actually care about the release date/collector’s edition/that I actually met Chewbacca (he’s really tall).

Facebook, while moving in the right direction, chooses your segmentation for you and makes assumptions about how you’d like your friends sorted. While the Restricted Friends List is useful, occasionally you might want someone on that list to see a post. Facebook views Acquaintances as people whose statuses you don’t want to see in your feed very frequently; if you, like me, find that your Acquaintances often have something interesting to say, you pretty much have to lump everyone into Close Friends, even if you don’t consider them as such. The lack of ability to configure your friends exactly the way you want leaves Facebook coming up short in this instance.

There’s no question that Facebook is still clearly winning the overall battle for dominance on the web. Time spent there by users far outweighs all other time spent on the Internet, and the number of Facebook users continues to grow. Google+ is still in its early stages, and we have yet to see if it will ultimately succeed or fail. Facebook will be a key player in the newcomer’s fate, but in this instance, I don’t see Facebook’s adaptation going far enough to threaten what I see as one of the strongest features of Google+.

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