The main thing that Google+ had going for it was a unique way to manage your ‘groups’ (or ‘circles’, they called them) of friends. The idea is so simple, yet totally opens up the amount of information we are willing, (and want,) to share. By organizing your friends in to groups – a group for close friends, a group for acquaintances, a group for your book club, church group or sports team – you can choose to share certain information with some friends, and not with others.
It is such a compelling idea that some people, (myself included,) made our way over to Google+ to try it out. Fortunately for those of us who were dreading migrating our whole online life from Facebook to Google, Facebook has changed their model to give us the same kind of freedom.
On Thursday’s f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the new Facebook profile called ‘Timeline’ which will be rolling out next week. I took a look at the developer preview of ‘Timeline’, and the first thing that came to mind was that while this is an amazing way to share information with SOME of my friends, how to I hide this information from others? Here is a quick peek at the developer preview for you, so that you can see what I’m talking about.
The New Timeline!
If you were looking for evidence that you spend entirely to much time online, here it is. Some people may be repulsed by the idea that they have shared this much of their life online, and others will rejoice in this fact. I am of the opinion that as long as you only share things that you don’t care if people know, then share, share away. I just want to make sure that I can control who gets to see it – well them and ‘big brother facebook’ anyways.
One thing that does make me ponder a little is that with this new timeline, you can jump from posts from today to posts from 10 years ago, with the click of a button. Before timeline, you could count on the fact that no one is going to hit ‘Show Earlier Posts’ enough times to go back more than a year, so the silly things you posted back in Highschool/College/January would never be seen again. I will tell you, one of the first things I did when I got my hands on the developer preview of Timeline was to delete a WHOOOLE lot of older posts. As if my family needs more material to make fun of me for.
Once that was under control, I really started to like Timeline. It is beautifully put together, with large images, creative views, and wonderful ajax-loaded content. There are a few things that I really like:
Types for Updates - Updates now have more character: you can use special types of updates to post that you started a new job, graduated from school, bought a house, traveled, or even broke a bone. These updates are noted as being more important than your run of the mill status updates, and get special post formats like this one, for when I went on a trip to Italy:
The Cover Image - I think it is great that they gave users the ability to display a Cover Image as well as a profile picture. Parents will no longer have to sacrifice their profile picture to post a picture of their kids! It is a great way for people to express themselves, and it can be changed every day if you want.
Map View - This is probably my favourite new feature. Hitting the map button on your profile will display your timeline on a map – any posts or pictures that have a location associated with them will appear on the map at that location:
I’m not a huge fan of “Checking In” – I really don’t think my 100 closest friends need to know that I’m at Macys. But I do like my vacation photos to have locations (but not until I get back home… why not just invite people to come rob my house, right Mom?) especially with this neat new way to view them.
You can zoom in and see the posts, check ins and pictures by clicking on one of the pink locations, choose locations by date, or just scroll through them randomly. I haven’t traveled that much, but I imagine some people would have some very interesting maps!
So how do you associate a location with a photo? It is actually very easy – just like how you can tag another person in your photo, you can use the “Add Location” button and type in the location’s name. By default, it will start searching nearby, but you can change that by finding the spot that says “Searching places near…” and pressing Change. You can mark a location as a City, Restaurant, Park, Airport – you name it!
Now that you’ve seen all the details of your life that are available to see on the new Timeline, you might be thinking it is time to up your privacy settings.
If you have been on Facebook for more than a few years, chances are there are people on your list of ‘friends’ with whom you are no longer that friendly. You fall out of touch, or maybe you were never that good of friends to begin with. For whatever reason, it seems a little harsh to hit that ‘unfriend’ button, so you carry on receiving each others unwanted updates.
Now with Timeline, you may feel that giving someone like this access to your life’s “scrapbook” invades a little too much on your privacy. Luckily, with a little configuration here and there, you can change how much access to grant to each person.
Control How You Share
In order to give you more flexible control over which people you share your information with, facebook has made their friend ‘Lists’ features more predominant. You can control exactly which people see what information by organizing your contacts in to groups, and giving specific permissions to each group.
You may have already noticed a “Lists” section to the left of your newsfeed with list of friends generated for you. Hit the “MORE” button to view all the friend lists you currently have.
There are a few types of lists here.
Everyone will have the following three lists: “Close Friends” list, the “Acquaintances” list, and the “Restricted” list. Contacts will only end up on these lists by you manually putting them there.
Next there are some “Smart Lists” generated for you, based on information you have listed in your profile. Smart lists are updated automatically – for example, if you put in your profile that you went to XYZ University, Facebook will generate a list for you called XYZ University. All of your contacts who also said they went there will be on this list, and the list will change as people update their profiles. You can tell if a list is a smart list by the lightning bolt beside the name:
Lists that you create yourself will show up here as well. You can create lists for groups of friends with common interests, in order to share information with only the relevant people (more on this below).
For now, the first thing to do is go through your contact list and add some of them to one of the “Close Friends” list, the “Acquaintances” list, and the “Restricted” list.
- Add people to your ‘Close Friends’ list with whom you would like to share the most, and see the most of their updates in your newsfeed.
- Add people to your ‘Acquaintances’ list whom you would like to share less with, and see less of their updates in your newsfeed.
- Add people to your ‘Restricted’ list whom you don’t really want to share anything personal, and you don’t want them to show up in your newsfeed.
- If someone doesn’t fit any of these requirements, just leave them out of all of the groups.
Facebook will use these groups to determine which information to show in your news feed. Posts from people in your ‘Close Friends’ group will be considered more important to you, and will appear closer to the top. Posts from people in your ‘Acquaintances’ group will be considered less important, and will appear farther down your newsfeed.
Protect your Profile
Your profile can potentially have a lot of personal information on it – which is fine for some of your contacts to see, but not necessarily all of them. Luckily, you can now configure exactly which information is available for which people.
Enter the ‘Edit Profile’ area, and note the small dropdowns at the end of each line. You can use this dropdown to set who can see the information on this line.
- ‘Public’ means anyone on Facebook can see this information while visiting your profile.
- ‘Friends’ means everyone on your friend’s list (except those on the restricted list) can see this information.
- ‘Friends except Acquaintances’ means everyone on your list except those on the Acquaintances and Restricted lists can see this information.
- ‘Only Me’ means, well, only you can see it.
- You can also choose one of the groups you have created, such as “Book Group” or “Baseball team”
If you want to be a little more specific about who sees this information, select the ‘Custom ‘ Setting. This will bring up a dialog box where you can allow multiple networks, people or groups, and exclude multiple people or groups
Consider how You Share
Sometimes, you might want to post information that may only be relevant to a small group of your friends. You may even decide not to share it, because you don’t want to bother everyone else with this information that is not relevant to them.
Lists are Private:
The lists you create are only for you to see. Adding someone to a list does not mean that they can see the list, or see who else is on it, or even know it exists. It does not show up anywhere for them to see.
In the same way, you will have no idea which lists your friends have put you on – unless all of a sudden you can only see public posts and public information from someone… try not to let it break your facebook-heart.
Now, by defining additional friend lists for contacts with common interests, you can share all the information you want, with exactly the people you want to share it with.
It can be useful to create lists for groups of friends with common interests – for example your baseball team, running group, or church group. These lists, as well as the smart lists that are generated for you, will make it easier to share information with only the relevant people .
The next time you go to post something, take a look for the new button beside the “Post” button. If you click it, it will drop down to give you the option of who you want to share with.
You can select from the main lists – Public (which will be visible to everyone – your friends, people who aren’t your friends, and people on your restricted list), Friends, Friends except Acquaintances, or Close Friends lists. Lists that you have created and use often will also appear here, as in “Baseball Team” above.
Currently, Facebook will remember the last setting you used when posting an update. The next time you go to post something, it will use this setting automatically – so make sure to check what it is set to before you hit post!
If you want to be even more specific, or if you want to share with multiple groups, choose the “Custom” option, and you will get a popup dialog where you can choose to include specific networks, groups and people, and to restrict specific groups and people.
You also should take a minute to set your Default privacy setting. This setting will be used for times when you post something where there is no place to set the privacy on an individual-post level. For example, when you are using a Facebook for mobile app, or posting from an external site like Twitter:
You can set your default privacy setting under the Privacy Settings section. I use the setting of Friends, except Restricted list. Look for the following icons to manage your Default setting:
While you are here, you may want to check out the minor privacy tweaks available in the sections after these icons, such as “How you Connect”, and “Limit the Audience for Past Posts”.
What If I Make a Mistake?
You can always change your mind about the level of privacy for one of your posts. If you set the wrong privacy level by mistake, or if you just change your mind, locate the post on your profile, and click the privacy icon, next to the date. You can choose a new privacy level for any post, at any time.
Yours or Mine?
Posts you make to your own profile, (by updating your status,) will inherit your privacy settings – but the same is not true for posts you leave elsewhere. If you post something on someone else’s profile, THEIR default privacy setting will be used. For example, take a look at this post I left on my husband’s wall when I found out Ben Flajnik was chosen as the next Bachelor:
Even though this is something that I posted, it isn’t even visible to all of my friends. Since it is on his profile, it is visible according to his default setting – Kevin’s friends of friends. You might want to save your sensitive information for a private message, incase the person you are posting to has a public profile. Luckily, I’m happy to have everyone know about Ben!
A little bit about Subscriptions
Are subscriptions the end of Twitter? Probably not.
If you are a frequent tweeter, you might be interested to know that facebook has introduced a public “Subscribers” feature. If you enable this feature, people don’t have to be your “friend” in order to see your public posts and public profile information. Subscribing to someone’s public posts works the same as with twitter, but lacking the keywords and tagging.
Subscribers fall in the same privacy pool as people on your Restricted list – they can only see your public posts, and can only view the information you mark Public on your profile.
You can enable subscriptions by hitting the “Allow Subscribers” button under “Subscriptions” below. You will be prompted with a dialog to fine tune your subscription privacy settings.
Alternatively, find the “How you Connect” section under Privacy Settings. Editing your “How you Connect” settings will bring up this dialog. Notice at the very top, you can edit your subscriber settings in the Subscribers Tab. Click this link to continue on.
Here you can turn on the setting to allow subscribers.
Update: Sharing your Photos
Thanks to reader Maria for asking a question about photo permissions. You now have a lot more control over how you share your photos on Facebook. Previously your options were to share photos with ‘Friends’ or ‘Friends of Friends’, but now you can share an album with any number of friends lists, or even make it public.
Your Albums - When you create an album, you get to select a privacy setting for the whole album. This makes it easy to share photos from a trip or event with just the people who attended. All photos in the album will inherit the privacy setting from the album itself – you cannot set a different privacy level for each photo. By default, Facebook will use the privacy setting from the last post that you posted, for your album. To change this setting, find the ‘Share Album With’ section on the Upload Photos dialog, and choose a new setting:
Changing the privacy setting on an existing album is just as easy. Locate the album in list of albums (Photos -> Albums -> See All) and note the privacy drop down beside the album name. Alternatively, you could edit the album information and change the permissions there.
Single Pictures - When you post a single picture to your wall, you can set a different privacy level for each photo same way you would set it if you were posting text or a link (just use the button next to the ‘Post’ button).
Even though all these photos belong to your “Wall Photos” album, they do not need to have the same privacy level. Once a photo is posted, you can always go back and change the setting by viewing the photo, and selecting another option from the privacy dropdown.
And don’t forget: a photo you post on someone else’s profile will inherit THEIR privacy settings!
Now that your privacy settings are beefed up, lets take a look at how to limit incoming information – posts from your friends, your subscriptions, and your fan pages.
Control What You See
If you have been creating groups as you went along with this article, you will now have a bunch of friends lists and you might have noticed that those lists appear to the left hand side of your main newsfeed. There may be times when you want to see what is new with just one of your lists of friends, instead of your main Newsfeed. Just click on one of those lists, and your main newsfeed will be filtered to only show posts from people on that list. You can even bookmark your favorite of these lists, and they will always appear near the top, under “Favorites”.
Fine tune Friend’s Updates:
You want to hear about what is new with your friends, but not every update is interesting to you. With friend lists you can now decide exactly which types of activity you want to see from each person. This feature has been around for awhile, but it is now much easier to configure, right down to the individual person.
This can also be configured for each group, so you might want to start with that. Select a friend list, and then hit the Manage List button at the top right hand corner, and select ‘Choose Update Types…’ .
Here you can choose, (by checking and unchecking,) which types of updates you want to receive from people in this group.
Next, you can fine tune these settings on a per-person level. You can change these settings almost everywhere that the person’s name appears as a link – on a post, in your friends list, or on your profile. Just hover over their name, and adjust the check marks in the same way you did for the group.
You can also make these changes by finding the Subscribed button on their profile, and hovering over it to bring out the drop down list
You have considerably less choice when it comes to the visibility of fan page page posts. By choosing to mark them as Top Stories in your newsfeed, you will see more of them. Otherwise, you can select to Hide all their posts. Those are the only options you have for Fan Pages.
Whew! Thats it! I hope you feel more informed about the new privacy features on Facebook. If there is something you are curious about that I haven’t covered, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to cover it for you!