Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Segmenting Communications: Facebook vs. Google Plus

There’s been a lot of interest in Google Plus’s “Circles” feature over the past month. It seems to present a more sophisticated and nuanced ability to manage communications and relationships.

In Google Plus, you don’t just “friend” someone like you do in Facebook (a relationship that, like a LinkedIn connection, must be reciprocal), nor do you exactly “follow” them like you do in Twitter (which is not necessarily reciprocal).

Instead, in Google Plus you find someone and put them in a Circle. This has the same effect as following them on Twitter: that person’s posts will appear in your general stream, as well as the stream of posts for that circle.

And, like Twitter, the connection need not be reciprocal: if the other person does not add you to one of his/her circles, then your posts will not be included in their general stream. There is a place they can go, however, that will include posts from people who have encircled them: “Incoming”.

It seemed that this “Circles” approach uniquely enabled better segmentation of one’s connections and relationships, so that for example if you have something technically-oriented to post, you don’t need to intrude upon the notice of, say, your family. You just post it to a circle you may have create called, “Geeks”, and members of the circle called “Family” will not see the post (unless you have family members who are also geeks).

It turns out that the Circles capability in Google Plus isn’t new, it’s just promoted and designed better than the corresponding capability in Facebook. In fact, you could argue that Facebook allows better segmentation than Google Plus – if you can find it.

In Facebook there are two ways to segment your posts, and similarly filter the posts you receive:

  • You can create groups in Facebook and invite friends to join. You can also just add friends to a group without their consent (though they can leave the group). In this case, posts to the group appear on the wall of group members only. You can even make private or secret groups to prevent non group members from finding those posts.
  • Lists are actually pretty powerful in Facebook, and I suspect underused. You can create your own list of friends (lists aren’t shared, nor are they visible to your friends).

To filter your wall feed to show only updates from a particular list, click on the “Most Recent” dropdown at the top of the News Feed, and you’ll see the ability to choose from one of your lists.

You can also filter your posts so they’re visible only to specific lists. To do this, click on the status update box (“What’s on your mind”), and you’ll see the image of a lock, which is a drop down where you can select who sees the post. To select a particular friend, or a list of friends, click the “Customize” option.

So using lists ends up working very much like Google Circles, it just requires a little more effort. In fact, Facebook goes one step further: when you customize who will see your posts, you can also explicitly exclude friends or lists of friends.  A perfect approach for college students whose parents have friended them.


Written by tstaley

August 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Platforms, Social Web

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