Facebook has officially released a new improved friend lists feature that was rumored to be in testing late last week. In a blog post on Facebook’s page, Facebook has announced that “it will be easier than ever to see more from the peoplel you care about and simpler to share exactly with the right people with Friend Lists.”

This update brings Facebook friend lists into direct competition with Google Plus Circles functionality. There are three specific improvements: smart lists, close friends and acquaintances lists and better friend suggestions. The way Facebook sees it, the more functionality that it can pack into the platform that parallels what Plus is doing, the more they can stem the tide against users leaving for Google’s social network.

Let’s take a look at the new features as per Facebook’s description:

  • Smart Lists — You’ll see smart lists that create themselves and stay up-to-date based on profile info your friends have in common with you–like your work, school, family and city.
  • Close Friends and Acquaintances lists — You can see your best friends’ photos and posts in one place, and see less from people you’re not as close to.
  • Better suggestions — You can add the right friends to your lists without a lot of effort.

Smart Lists is taking Google Plus Circles a step further. It gives you four categories (work, school, family, city) to start with and automatically puts people in those lists. That is very similar to the default circles that Google Plus sets up. As Facebook says in its blog post “managing lists is boring.” It would know. It is not like Facebook friend lists are new. They have had the ability to make lists for a while now. It is just that nobody really used them outside of the on the edge-case scenario.

As we mentioned in a post earlier today, automatic is not necessarily a good thing. Facebook users like to have control. Or, at least the perception that they are in control.

With the close friends and acquaintances lists, if you add a friend to those lists it becomes a quick way to make sure that you see their posts in your news feed. Of the three updates that Facebook has released, this is perhaps the most useful. As we have written before, anything that Facebook does with filters on the news feed to increase relevance is a good thing. Better suggestions fits within the both of these updates as it makes it easier to decide where and when a friend should be put into a list. Facebook has also has a “restricted” list (this is not new) for friends that you want to only see your public posts.

As with just about everything that Facebook does, this might cause a bit of a user revolt. The popular refrain on the platform is “if it ain’t broke … .” Yet, at the same time, users have been complaining about privacy and sharing and filters for years now. It is almost amazing that Facebook had to wait for serious competition from Google to really start instituting these types of changes.