New Facebook 101: Lists

Posted on Friday, Sep 23, 2011

If you are a user of Facebook, you are no doubt aware that there have been some major changes lately…especially around the Feed. I’m not going to tell you why the new way is better, because either a) you already know, so why bother, or b) you already decided it’s not, so again, why bother.

Instead, the purpose of this post is to explain exactly how to tweak the hell out of your Facebook Lists in a way that makes the “new” Facebook work FOR you, instead of AGAINST you.

Reading Lists vs. Posting Lists

I have written previously about using Facebook Friend Lists to create “security boundaries” to keep your professional and personal life separate on Facebook. This was an example of a “Posting List” – a list of Friends used to restrict who might see something you POST. In “New Facebook”, we also look at the idea of “Reading Lists” – groups of Friends used to control and segment what you read and when. While it’s possible to have the same Lists used as both Reading and Posting lists, I don’t recommend it, simply because it gets too easy to make a security mistake.

Your Reading Lists

The two primary Lists you will need to set up are Close Friends and Acquaintances. Facebook already creates these Lists for you, and even is happy to provide you with suggestions on who should go into them. Feel free to use Facebook’s suggestions, but first make sure you understand how each List will be used.

My approach towards the Reading Lists in Facebook is very similar to my method for organizing feeds in Google Reader. Except, instead of “Can’t Miss” and “Skip ‘Em”, we will be using “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances”.

“Close Friends”

Step one – completely ignore the name of this list. We are not necessarily going to restrict this list to people you consider your “close” friends. In fact, it’s possible that you might have hundreds of people in this List…and it’s not likely that you have 100+ “close friends” for real. Or maybe you do. Either way, it doesn’t matter for our purposes here.

The “Close Friends” list serves the same purpose as the “Can’t Miss” folder in my Google Reader strategy. This is the list of people who you want to make sure you don’t miss ANYTHING about. When determining who should go into this list, ask yourself this question:

If this person posted about a major life event (getting engaged or married, or having children) would I be upset if I missed it?

If the answer is “Yes”, then they belong on this list. We’ll be talking about how this list is used in a little bit. But for now, go ahead and populate this list with all the folks who you would be all pissy if you missed out on reading about them adopting a new puppy (because, aww! Puppy!)

Here’s how:

Facebook Close Friends Button

First, click on the "Close Friends" list on the left side of your Facebook screen

Next, under "Manage List", click "Add/Remove Friends"

Finally, click once on each person you want to add. The little checkbox means they will be added. Click "Done" when, well, you're done.


These are the folks who, if you missed some of their lifestream, wouldn’t shake you up too badly. Depending on how you use Facebook, you might not have anyone in this list – it’s entirely possible that you put EVERYONE in “Close Friends”. This is okay. It’s weird, but it’s okay.

That being said, go ahead and add everyone who is not in “Close Friends” into this list. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to do this. Do your best. This works exactly the same as Close Friends, except you choose a different list. It might not show up by default on the left, so you might have to click “MORE” to the right of “LISTS”.

Using your new Reading Lists

Now, in theory, everyone on your Friends list should belong to either “Close Friends” or “Acquaintances”. It’s okay if someone falls through the cracks, but bear in mind, these are the folks that you aren’t going to have any real way of tracking. They’ll just pop up, somewhere, sometimes, in your Feed. But that shouldn’t be a problem, since they clearly weren’t memorable enough for you to know if they are a Close Friend or not.

There’s a lot of tweaking you can do with each list for how it affects your main feed – you can set what types of updates to receive from each list. You remember the dropdown you clicked for “Add/Remove Friends”? It has an option called “Choose Update Types”:

Your friends would probably like it if you uncheck "Comments and Likes". if nothing else, it might stop them from posting that one status message asking you to do this for each of them individually. Or maybe not.

Once you have your tweaks set up for both Lists, it’s time to put them to use. Generally speaking, you should be able to fire along just fine using the main Feed. Consider this the “all items” view in Google Reader. But if you are in a bit of a hurry, or you want to make sure you are all caught up with the people who matter to you…just click on the “Close Friends” link on the left nav:

Ta da! You now see all the updates from your Close Friends…in chronological order…without any crazy “Top Stories” or whatever it was that annoyed you about the Feed.

So why do we have the Acquaintances list? Because, you know, maybe you get bored and you want to see what the other folks are up to. You can click on this List the exact same way and have the same result.

If you are feeling really saucy, you can always create additional Reading Lists based upon topics. For example, if you have a bunch of friends who only post pictures of cats, and you want to be able to see a feed full of cat pictures, you can create a list called “Crazy Cat People”…put your cat folks into it, and set the update type to only Photos. This won’t assure you that non-cat photos will be excluded, but if you build the list properly, you just might be able to pull it off.

What about Pages?

To be honest, I really have no idea how Page factor into the Feed algorithm. You cannot weight a page by adding it to a List, and you also can’t specify the type of updates you get from a Page…you can either have it show up or not. I am sure there will be more changes around the sorting of updates from Pages in the weeks to come, but at this point, you’re just kind of stuck with them showing up in the Feed wherever they darn well feel like. If you have noticed any changes or input into how Pages are working in the new Feed, please post them in the comments. I’ll update with any new scoop I receive.

Please let me know how this works for you! I’m hoping that this gives a little more power to controlling the Feed, or at least working around it when necessary. There is still a bit of wonkiness around how the Feed gets populated (for example, why would my Feed ever consider one of my own posts to be a Top Story for me? I don’t need to read my own stuff as high priority!), but it has been helping me with some of the noise control…especially with a properly populated Close Friends list. Even if you don’t “trust” Facebook to “tell me what is important”, remember – you can always bail to the List view to simply see posts in a chronological order, the way you want to. For now.

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