What Facebook’s ‘Subscribe’ signifies

In social media, the only constant is change. Remember those commentaries about how social networking was “trivializing” friendship by throwing all levels of acquaintanceship under the big digital umbrella labeled “friends”? Well, I always felt the commentators were taking what they saw in social sites a bit too literally and failing to understand how much “real life” socializing rules its online expression. But the online representation of our social lives is now acquiring more real-life-like granularity anyway – with Facebook’s new “Subscribe” feature and Google+ allowing one-way following. Both now let you follow interesting fellow members and vice versa without having to sync up artificially as “friends” – just as in Twitter. And just as in Twitter, this is another great way for writers, artists, researchers, etc. of any age to put their work out there, get feedback, and grow their following.

It’s also safe. Facebook’s Subscribe feature is completely opt-in, and users under 18 can’t share publicly or allow “Anyone” to subscribe (though they can subscribe to celebrities (who are not themselves minors). And if you do opt into Subscribe (which puts a “Subscribe button” for people to click on your profile page), you can block any user from subscribing to you. All your Facebook friends are automatically “Subscribed” to you just because they always were, before it was called “subscribing.” You can control who sees your subscriptions list the same way you can control who sees your friends list – in FB Privacy Settings. For more details, see PC World’s “Getting Started Guide” and my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid’s coverage in the San Jose Mercury News. I think this is a great step forward, because the more our digital-world socializing reflects our real-world social experiences (as it all just becomes “real”), the more our real-world social norms move into and take over in digital spaces. And that spells greater safety, civility, and success online as well as offline (see “We need to work out the social norms of social media: Why?”).


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