Facebook Offers New Way to Sort Friends, Copy Info

Published October 6, 2010

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) — Facebook is trying to make it easier for people to share their updates selectively and draw distinctions between friends, family members and co-workers on the Web's biggest social hub.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and CEO, unveiled the latest changes Wednesday at a press conference that marked his first public appearance since last Friday's debut of "The Social Network," a movie tracing Facebook's origins and evolution.

The movie depicts Zuckerberg as a misanthropic genius who relied on a combination of talent and treachery to build Facebook into a cultural touchstone since he began working on it in a Harvard University dorm room more than six years ago.

Zuckerberg told reporters Wednesday he wouldn't discuss the critically acclaimed film, which has been a box-office hit so far. He has previously scoffed at the movie as a gross exaggeration and said he didn't intend to see it.

He had much more to say about Facebook's features, which he said Facebook's engineers had been working on during the past two months while in "lockdown" mode.

The project was aimed at making it easier to sort Facebook friendships into separate clusters, such as college chums, drinking buddies, co-workers, neighbors and family. That, in turn, is intended to make people more comfortable about posting observations and pictures for which they only want a limited audience.

Facebook already offers a way to do this through a "lists" feature. But only about 5 percent of Facebook's more than 500 million users take the time to use this tool to carve up their friendships.

"No one wants to make lists," Zuckerberg said.

The new feature is called "groups," and started rolling out Wednesday. It will allow people to set up pages consisting of people who share the same interests or family affiliation. Group members can post information only other members can see, and they will be able to convene in chat rooms. Members also will be able to plan events together.

Each step on the road to making Facebook an indispensible way to communicate makes it more attractive to advertisers. That, in turn, helps to bring in revenue as the privately held company gears up for an initial public offering expected within two years.

Zuckerberg believes 80 percent of Facebook users eventually will be touched by the group feature in some fashion, either by creating groups or being sorted into groups.

"We aren't trying to be hyperbolic in saying that this is going to be a fundamental shift" in how people will use Facebook, Zuckerberg said.

Facebook imported some of the ideas for the groups feature from a startup called Hot Potato that it bought during the summer. Hot Potato founder Justin Shaffer is the product manager for the groups tool.

To give users even more peace of mind about what they are sharing, Facebook is making it possible for them to download digital copies of all the personal data they have on the website. It's also introducing a dashboard to monitor personal information used by games, quizzes and other applications distributed on Facebook.

To guard against hackers downloading other people's personal information, Facebook will send users e-mails whenever information requests are made, and take a series of other security steps.

Written by MICHAEL LIEDTKE,AP Technology Writer

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