New Delhi: In what is an obvious example of Facebook 'following' Twitter and Google+, the world's largest social networking service is now letting its users to 'subscribe' to posts from other Facebook users, even from those they are not friends with.
As the competing social networks roll out new features, they are slowly becoming clones of one another, feature by feature. This one-upmanship will soon come to a point where there will not be much left to distinguish one network from the other, apart from their brand names.
This clutter of new features add to the woes of the users who may end up having more trouble understanding and maintaining their virtual lives than their physical existences. Here's an effort to simplify what the new Facebook Subscribe button is all about.
What is the Facebook Subscribe button?
The Subscribe button will appear on the profiles of users. Clicking the Subscribe button on a user's profile will allow you to get the public updates from that Facebook user on your news feed. Public updates are posts put up by a user that anyone on Facebook can see and is not limited to his/her friends or friends of friends.
How do I get the Subscribe button on my profile?
The Subscribe button is not made available to users by default and users need to opt in to enable the subscribe button on their Facebook profiles. To enable the Subscribe button on your Facebook profile go to http://www.facebook.com/about/subscribe and then click on the 'Allow subscribers' button to the right of the page.
How do I control the Subscribe button settings?
Once you enable the Subscribe button on your profile, you will be prompted to allow or disallow comments on your public updates and also whether you want to receive notifications when other users subscribe to your updates.
Where will I get to see my subscribers?
As soon as you have enabled the Subscribe button on your profile, you will get to see a 'Subscribers' link on the left navigation in your Facebook profile page.
Where do I find who all I have subscribed to?
Just above the 'Subscribers' link on the left navigation you will find a link to the 'Subscriptions' tab. Your subscriptions are categorised into 'Public Subscriptions' and 'Friend Subscriptions.' The difference between the two is that 'Public subscriptions' will show users with whom you are not friends but are only following for public updates, while 'Friend Subscriptions' refer to users who are your friends on Facebook.
How do I control the type of content I want to see to from a user?
Once you have clicked on the Subscribe button on a user's profile, hovering on the button with display options to let you fine tune your subscription. You can choose the number of updates (All updates, most updates or only important) and also the types of updates (Life events, status updates, photos and videos and games). You can also manage the setting from your Subscriptions tab.
How is a profile with subscription different from a page?
Pages and profiles with subscriptions will remain different, each having some advantages over others. A Facebook profile is meant for individuals and the new subscription button increases the reach much beyond the cap of 5,000 friends that Facebook has set. Since only individuals can have Facebook profiles, companies and brands will have to continue with pages. But from a marketing point of view, say for a celebrity, a page has far greater advantage over a profile.
What if I am overwhelmed by the number of updates on my news feed?
If you are getting more updates than you can handle, go to your 'Subscriptions' tab and unfollow some people or change the settings to receive only important updates from some or all of them.
If I subscribe to someone, do I become a friend?
No. Subscribing is different from adding someone as a friend, by subscribing you can view someone else's public posts but that person need not necessarily be able to view your posts on his/her news feed. When you send a friend request, the person you sent it to has to accept the request for you to become friends. This mutual acceptance is not necessary for subscriptions.
There's someone who I don't want as a subscriber. What should I do?
Go to that person's profile and click on the button with a gear icon to the right, from the dropdown select Report/Block and then choose the options that you seem appropriate. Your blocked user will no longer be able to access your Facebook updates from the same account. To undo the process you have to go to your privacy settings and then click on the Manage Blocking link and then unblock the user. Note that when you block someone, you too will also not be able to see that person's profile and updates (except for in groups and games) unless you manually unblock him/her.
How do I know whom to subscribe?
Facebook will also suggest people whose updates you can subscribe, much like it suggests new friends for you. Facebook's subscription suggestions will be based on a number of factors such as the number of your friends who subscribe to them and common interests. If any of your friends subscribe to someone's updates you can see it on his/her activity feed. Facebook may also soon launch ads for subscriptions on the lines of what it currently has for pages.
Will this be a Twitter killer?
No. Twitter still thrives on its simplicity, though over the past year Twitter has been gradually moving a little away from what it used to be. The need that Twitter fulfils is still different from what Facebook, or for that matter Google+, does. Subscriptions is Facebook's attempt bring in elements of Twitter, but then it will only add to the chaos that news feed has turned out to be. It is now a problem of plenty.
While Facebook may have a far greater reach than Twitter, it is updates on Twitter that is more often quoted in the mainstream media. Facebook now wants to change this with subscriptions, but Twitter has firmly established itself as the media's favourite quote source and I don't see this changing anytime soon. Twitter is also an excellent source of realtime news, but on Facebook it is often the hoaxes that get noticed more.
You may subscribe to Soumyadip Choudhury's Facebook updates here.