by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, Tech for Luddites
Last week, Facebook added a new "feature" that lets you subscribe to another Facebook user. It has a similar function to following people on Twitter or Google+ but, not surprisingly, it's a lot more confusing. Because Facebook already has a model for connecting people—it's called being friends with them.
So let's take a look at what this Subscribing stuff is all about...
What does it mean to "subscribe" to someone?
Subscribing to someone means that you will see his or her updates in your News Feed. Of course, you already see your friends' updates in your News Feed. But you can also use the Subscribe feature to determine how many of each friends' updates show up in your feed. And, in typical Facebook fashion, the explanation of the different settings is crystal clear:
- All updates: Everything your friend posts
- Most updates: The amount you'd normally see
- Important updates only: Just highlights, like a new job or move
Silly me, I thought "the amount I'd normally see" WAS all updates...
This is purely conjecture, but I'm guessing that Most Updates eliminates some of the things like games and other app-related updates, but includes things the person actually posts like statuses, photos, and links. If I find anything more definitive, I'll definitely update this post.
The other purpose of the Subscribe button is to let you follow updates by people you are NOT currently friends with. These people have to have explicitly chosen to permit people to subscribe to them, and the only updates you will see are those that they have designated as Public (one of the recent privacy setting changes). This is where you're getting more of the Twitter/Google+ functionality and I suspect it will primarily be used by public figures who will use it as one more marketing channel (leading some to suggest it may replace the use of Facebook Pages).
Subscribing to a Profile
To subscribe to a non-friend's profile, first you'll have to search for his/her profile on Facebook to see if he allows subscribers. If he does, he'll have a Subscribe button at the top of his profile page.
Once you've subscribed, click the button again to select which updates you want to get in your News Feed. (Note there are a few more specific options beyond the three general categories.)
Changing the Settings for Your Friends
As I mentioned earlier, you already get your friends' updates in your News Feed. So now if you go to any of their profile pages, you will automatically be subscribed to them. But you can still customize what posts you see. Note that for friends you also have the option to turn on/off notices for Comments and Likes and the highly explanatory category, Other Activity. You can also Unsubscribe from their updates, which is the same as the old Hide feature.
Now here's where I think Facebook made another mistake: they've set everybody's friends to Most Updates. I would have been inclined to set them to All Updates (assuming if they're friends, you're interested in them) and leave it up to you to reduce the number of updates if you want fewer.
It wouldn't be so bad except there doesn't appear to be anywhere where you can change the settings for all your friends at once. However, if you do want to do that, the semi-good news is that you don't have to go to each person's profile page individually. Instead, you can:
- Go to your own Profile page.
- In the left-hand column, click the Subscriptions link.
- On the Subscriptions page, click Friend Subscriptions.
- Click the Subscribed button beside each person's name to change the settings.
Letting Others Subscribe to Your Profile
If you want to let people who aren't Facebook friends subscribe to your posts, click the Allow Subscribers button from the Subscriptions page.
Note: You'll have to publish updates as Public for your subscribers to see them. AND REMEMBER, once you've changed the setting for an update, that becomes the default until you change it again. So make sure you check your privacy settings for anything you don't want to make public.
What Do I Think About Facebook Subscriptions?
Well, the first thing I think is that, for a man who has made billions of dollars building a product that has over 750 million users, Mark Zuckerberg seems to be a pretty insecure guy... How else to explain the major changes that Facebook seems to make in a poorly thought out panic every time another product like Twitter or Google+ comes up with different ways of connecting people?
Of course, I'll be interested in seeing how well this catches on. At the moment, the only people I'm discovering using this are those who spend their whole lives immersed in social media (see the screenshot from Mashable's Pete Cashmore's profile, above). I've looked up a number of big names (celebrities, politicians, bloggers) who have not yet added this to their profile. In fact, many of them don't even have a personal profile—they use Facebook Pages to connect with the public.
Mostly, though, I think it's just one more way to confuse regular Facebook users. I still think of Facebook as a very different animal than Twitter or Google+ so, for me, I don't see myself taking advantage of this feature any time soon.
But What Do YOU Think?
Do you subscribe to non-friends' posts or allow others to subscribe to yours? Have you used it to change the number of updates you're seeing from certain friends? Share your experiences in the comment section below!
Last Updated: September 18, 2011