Facebook friend list update targets Google+

image captionFacebook's list update promises users more control, Like Google's Circles feature

Facebook has updated its Friend Lists system, in what is likely to be seen as a reaction to the Circles feature on Google+.

Users will now have more control over how their connections are grouped, with some lists, such as work and family, created automatically.

The company has been rolling out a range of new features in recent weeks.

Although Facebook remains the world's most popular social network, Google+ is expected to hit 100m users this year.

The new Smart Lists feature will create categories based on the relationship between a user and their friends.

For example, anyone sharing the same workplace will be designated a colleague. Likewise school friends.

New "close friends" and "acquaintances" lists will allow Facebook members to filter who they see updates from.

There will be inevitable comparisons to the widely praised Circles feature on Google's social network, which lets users group together people they are following.

However Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's vice president of engineering said the changes were part of the site's gradual evolution.

"We've had friend lists since 2007. Groups we made in 2010. We've been experimenting with lots of different ways to share for many, many years now," he told BBC News.

Twitter threat?

While the new friend list setting are an apparently minor change to an existing system, their introduction may provide clues to Facebook's longer term strategy.

On a superficial level, the changes appear to be aimed at users who are attracted by the ability to create groups using Google Circles.

image captionFacebook could pose a threat to Twitter if users share public updates

However, coupled with recent updates to the system for sharing content on Facebook, there is also a challenge to Twitter.

By encouraging users to think about attaching different privacy levels to things they post, and to categorise whose status updates they see, Facebook seems to be preparing to encourage more public feeds, visible to anyone online.

Such a strategy could ultimately lead to a Twitter-style "follow" system, where users can sign-up to updates from non friends.

Facebook's Mike Schroepfer said that the company would always offer the option to remain private.

"There are things that people share that they don't want others to see - a personal thought or something with their family, and there is no value in having that shared more publicly," he said.

However, he hinted that more public postings would also play a part in the site's future.

"There's definitely a value in serendipity and getting a chance to connect people. That's a lot of what our product is about."

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