Facebook finally rolled out their long awaited friend lists feature today. The feature allows users to create groups of friends and has been seen as a necessary step for Facebook to be able to compete with professional networks like LinkedIn, but Facebook's implementation seems incomplete.
According to Facebook, lists are for "for messaging, invites, and more." Indeed, by creating lists among your friends you can easily mass message or mass invite groups of people. That can certainly be helpful for separating coworkers from college buddies from family -- that way none of your frat pals show up at your office party or your office mates accidentally show up at your son's bar mitzvah. But distinctly missing from the new feature is a tie into privacy settings.
One of the main reasons people are reluctant to use Facebook for business networking is because Facebook, like other casual social networks, was originally used to share private information with friends. Most people want to do business networking on a site that is strictly business. Facebook profiles are generally not sanitized enough for that, and no one wants their boss to see photos of them half nude at a party (unless maybe you work for Hugh Hefner).
We had hoped that Facebook would not only let you group friends, but also specify privacy settings based on those groups. I.e., you could put coworkers in a group that could only see your contact and bio information and send you messages, but not see your wall or photos. Then friends could be put into a separate group that could do potentially damaging (to your business reputation) things like see and share photos. Even better, groups could be used to more finely tune privacy settings, such as hiding a specific photo or album from a single group.
As we reported in November, Facebook rival MySpace plans to let its users create more than one profile to express themselves in different ways to different contacts -- for example, friends, family, and business. We speculated that perhaps this is an indication that MySpace is planning a run at the business networking crowd. In that post we wrote that, "If competition for LinkedIn, Xing, Plaxo, etc. is going to materialize from the mainstream social networks, [...] Facebook is probably the best candidate given their cleaner, more professional look (application clutter notwithstanding)."
That sentiment still stands, and today Facebook took a tiny step in that direction, but they need to tie in privacy controls to friend lists if they want to seriously appeal to the business networking crowd.