Last week, reports swirled that Facebook was testing a new friend list feature that bared a similar resemblance to Google+ Circles. One difference was that Facebook's "Smart Lists" do the work for you, automatically grouping your friends into lists such as work, school, family and city. Now, Facebook says, this feature is going primetime and will be available to everyone this week.
This newest update follows Facebook's redesign of its privacy settings, which many believed was also influenced by Google+.
Facebook's new friend lists, which is an optional feature, is essentially a redesign of a feature it's had for years--Lists. The original Lists were difficult to navigate and tedious to update, which, Facebook Product Developer Blake Ross said in a blog post, was the reason for the revamp.
Here are five important facts you need to know about the new friend lists before you get started.
1. Smart Lists group some of your friends automatically. If you choose to partake in Smart Lists, Facebook will generate four separate lists for you: work, school, family and city. Facebook puts people into these lists based on information they have in their profile. For example, if you list Harvard University as your alma mater, and so do 25 of your Facebook friends, they will be grouped under "school." The same goes for family members, work colleagues and people who live near you.
These four lists will be updated automatically, so there is little or no maintenance--a big improvement from before. You can also add or remove friends manually to make the list more accurate.
2. Two additional lists let you separate best friends from acquaintances. While Facebook is touting its Smart Lists as its main attraction, it's also rolling out two lists that you curate on your own to distinguish close friends from people you don't know well.
By including people in your Close Friends list, you can sort your News Feed for only their posts, as well as choose to receive notifications when they post updates, so you don't miss anything.
Facebook recommends adding people such as old classmates and business contacts to the "Acquaintances" list. By doing so, you'll see fewer updates from them in your News Feed. You will, however, see updates when they post something important, Facebook says, such as when they get married or move to a new city, so you can remain in touch.
[Want more Facebook tips, tricks and analysis? Check out CIO.com's Facebook Bible.]
3. "Restricted" list limits visibility to people such as your boss. A lot of people panic when they receive an email saying your boss has friended you on Facebook. Instead of keeping their request to connect in limbo, you can now add them to a "Restricted" list.
People you include on this list will only see your public posts, which means it's important to use the "View Profile As" feature to ensure what you think is private, actually is. You'll still be able to send them messages or tag them in a picture or post if you want to.
4. Lists you already created are still valid. If you took the time to create and maintain lists before the new Lists launch--such as a Limited Profile list--you can still use them to restrict access to pictures you post, status updates, notes, etc.
5. Understand List privacy. Say you post a status update to your Acquaintances list. No one you put on that list will be able to see the name of the list. They will, however, be able to see each others' names.
The reason for this is to "give them more context." According to Facebook, if you see that a post is shared with your five closest friends, you're more likely to comment freely on it than you would if you didn't know who else could see the post.
Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at email@example.com