Facebook today announced a major update to its homepages that will go live next Wednesday. The new homepages will put the news feed front and center and have both a filtering feature as well as a sidebar that highlights the most popular topics and links that are currently being discussed by your friends. The news feed is now also updated in real-time, while the old feed ran on a schedule and only updated a few times per hour.

New Homepages

One highlight of the new homepages is a new 'publisher' feature which looks almost exactly like a similar feature on FriendFeed. Users can now easily post updates, notes, photos, and videos right from their homepage without having to go to the specific application first. In addition, users will now be able to easily filter their streams by specific friends, the type of relationship they have with people (groups), or by the application that generated the update.

Just like on FriendFeed, users can now easily block updates from others if they turn out to be spammers or are simply posting too few interesting (or too many) updates.

Followers on Facebook

Facebook has also lifted the 5,000 friend limit, which, according to Facebook, might mean that the definition of 'friendship' on Facebook could change in the long run. According to Facebook, only a very small percentage (less than 1/10 of a percent) of users currently hits the 5000 friend ceiling, but the company wants to give those users who want to share info with more than 5,000 users the option to do so.

Thanks to updates to Facebook's privacy settings, users will now also be able to follow others without having to become actual 'friends.' This is basically the same 'friendship' model that Twitter has implemented on its service.

Changes to Pages

Facebook also announced the rumored changes to its Facebook Pages. These pages currently allow brands, businesses, and celebrities to create a branded presence on Facebook, but they are separate entities from Facebook's regular profiles. Today, the new pages are going live for CNN, U2, and President Obama and will open up to all Pages users by March 11th. In the long run Facebook wants to converge everybody on the site to have the same type of presence, no matter if they are brands, celebrities, Robert Scoble, or just regular users.

Twitter Envy: Shifting Focus to Real-Time Updates

During today's press conference, Facebook's Chris Cox also talked a bit about how Facebook's focus has been changing from being a relatively static page to its users embracing the news feed as the central part of the site. Cox also strongly emphasized the real-time nature of the news feed. We couldn't help but think that Facebook is slowly moving towards combining some of the best features of FriendFeed and Twitter on its homepages as it has seen how quickly users latched on to Twitter and its real-time updates.

How Will Users React?

It will be interesting to see how Facebook's community reacts to these changes. It seems like Facebook purposely made this announcement a week before it is going live in order to prepare its users. After all, when Facebook first introduced the news feed in 2006, its users were anything but happy about this new feature. There will also be a preview site where users can familiarize themselves with the new homepage before they see it on their own page.