In my last post, Google+ Circles vs. Facebook Lists, as well as other related posts, I discussed the concept of friends and lists in Facebook and contrasted it to Google+ circles as well as following in Twitter. Facebook introduced subscriptions in September 2011, not long after the launch of Google+. Essentially subscription is equivalent to following without the commitment of a 2-way friendship or a 2-way connection in LinkedIn.
I think this is an important capability that Facebook was lacking. Now I can subscribe to someone to get their updates without them having to acknowledge me as a friend. I may be interested in getting updates from certain people (e.g. journalists, artists and CEOs) who are willing to share their public updates but they may not want to acknowledge me as a friend. For example, I subscribe to Mark Zuckerberg, Arianna Huffington, Nicholas Kristof, Fareed Zakaria, Trey Ratcliff, Marc Benioff, and Pete Cashmore. In case you don’t recognize any of these names, you may want to check them out.
One may however argue that Facebook had already enabled a one-way follow via its Pages which has been available much longer. Liking or fanning a page is equivalent to subscribing to the updates of that page. If someone is famous and popular enough, then she very likely has a fan page already. That is a correct statement, but subscriptions enable following personal profiles.
Facebook has added additional capabilities to its subscription feature, the equivalent of which is not available in Twitter or Google+. First of all, you need to enable subscriptions for others to be able to subscribe to you. The “Subscribe Settings” below shows how you do this. The default for existing accounts is disabled. Note that once you enable subscriptions, your subscribers only get your public posts. So if I share something with a particular list of mine, my subscribers will not see it. You can also control whether your public subscribers can comment on your posts or not.
The image below shows my subscriptions. I am currently subscribed to 72 people. And I am of course subscribed to my my 1,881 friends. Note that when you become friends with someone you are automatically subscribed to each other’s updates. However, if two people are subscribed to each other, they’re not necessarily friends.
Another capability that Facebook subscription has is that when I subscribe to someone, I can choose how much detail and what types of updates I get. There are two settings: (1) # of updates and (2) updates types. The image below shows the default settings for these two. As you can see, I am subscribed to Mark Zuckerberg with the default settings. If I am interested in say someone’s game updates, then I can unsubscribe to his games.
If you have any questions or comments about this post, feel free to post them here or contact me.