Facebook overhauls News Feed, introduces ‘Subscribe’ button

15 Sep 2011

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In a move that could prove enormously successful or enormously risky, Facebook has overhauled the all-important News Feed that defines most users’ experience of the social network and has introduced a new subscriptions button.

Over the next few days, Facebook will roll out a new “Subscribe” feature that gives users control over what friends share with you and also allow you to follow the posts of people who may not be friends or even acquaintances per se, but whose posts are interesting to you – such as popular comedians, politicians, journalists, etc.

It also gives you control over what you don’t like to see – remember how a friend may play FarmVille or Café World and your News Feed would be full of details about how so and so bought a new tractor or shot gun? Gone! Users will have granular control so they can edit what appears in their News Feeds.

The move comes just a day after Facebook introduced Smart Lists to help users better organise their friends and said it was reducing the number of email notifications users receive.

These new service can be construed to be a massive fight-back against new rival Google+ and Twitter’s steady march upwards.

Choose exactly what you want to see in your News Feed

“Until now, it hasn’t been easy to choose exactly what you see in your News Feed,” explained Facebook’s Zach Rait. “Maybe you don’t want to see every time your brother plays a game on Facebook, for example. Or maybe you’d like to see more stories from your best friends, and fewer from your co-workers.

“You also couldn’t hear directly from people you’re interested in but don’t know personally – like journalists, artists and political figures.

“With the Subscribe button, we’re making it easier to do both. In the next few days, you’ll start seeing this button on friends’ and others’ profiles. You can use it to choose what you see from people in News Feed, hear from people, even if you’re not friends, let people hear from you, even if you’re not friends.”

The Subscribe button will sit in the top right corner of friends’ Facebook pages.

Rait said that if users so wish, they can still get all updates or they can easily turn down the volume by clicking ‘all updates’, ‘most updates’ or ‘important updates only.’

You can also decide what types of updates you see. For example, you could see just photos from one friend, no stories about games from another, and nothing at all from someone else,” Rait said.

This is an interesting, perhaps long overdue, move by Facebook. The key ultimately will be how people will use it and this will be defined by how easy it will be to use and adjust on the fly.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com