You might have noticed that Facebook changed last night. Inline photos are a little bigger, the top bar a little blockier, and a news ticker now rests in the upper-righthand corner for real-time updates. Overwhelmed? We're here to help.
This latest flurry of updates caps off a steady flow of tweaks over the past few weeks. You now subscribe to your friends' updates as you would an RSS feeds. You can subscribe to people you're not even friends with. You can organize friend groups by type (in Google+ fashion), not just for chat purposes. And you also have more on-the-fly control over who does and doesn't see your wall posts. All of these features come together to make Facebook feel different, even if it's fundamentally unchanged at its core. Here's a look at the new Facebook.
The immediate reaction to the news ticker—my immediate reaction to the news ticker—was that it was redundant. We have a feed already! It works fine! But I suspect that in the long run, Facebook will further differentiate what goes into the two feeds, especially with the addition of subscriptions. It's Twitterish in the rate at which updates fly in, but the content is still very much Facebookian.
Right now, there's a lot of overlap between the updates in the news feed and those in the news ticker (especially since it's morning on the East Coast right now). But going forward, I can envision a lot fewer likes, and comments showing up in the main news feed.
Facebook sees the news feed serving as a digest. There will always be recent updates, but probably mostly from people whose profiles you actually visit and only the types of updates you actually care about. Facebook is very gung-ho on the concept of top news, which are posts flagged by some algorithm they've developed, and which will keep those updates in your feed for a considerable amount of time. This is what keeps Facebook from devolving into just an over-crowded Twitter.
Seeing a huge-ass thumbnail plastered in my feed was actually a welcome change. And now, when you upload or are tagged in multiple photos, it shows up in a stylish, multi-panel design. Good work, Facebook!
Want some (or all) of someone's updates, but don't necessarily want the baggage of being FB friends with them? Just subscribe to their feed. People will still see who you are following, so it's not a work around for your stalking antics. But it's especially nice for those people who want to share their life and work with a broader audience without getting too personal. What Pages does for companies, Subscriptions will do for individuals.
There's been some form of grouping on Facebook for awhile now, but now Friend Lists are much more useful on Facebook. You can easily send updates to one or more groups without sending to all. Think of these like circles in Google+.