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Facebook unveils Smart Lists to categorize friends

The new Smart Lists feature automatically groups friends into categories, so you don't have to separate them out yourself.

Facebook has offered up improvements to its friends lists.
Facebook has offered up improvements to its friends lists.

Facebook is giving users a hands-off option for managing friends lists.

Dubbed Smart Lists, the latest improvement to the social network automatically creates friend groups, so users don't need to manage their lists on their own. According to Facebook, for now the feature will create lists connected to workplace, school, family, and city. For example, if a user lists their college on their profile, Smart Lists will automatically find all their friends that did the same, and group them together for easier sharing of content between them.

Even though the feature automatically creates lists, Facebook says that users can still manually add or remove friends from lists to tailor it to their needs.

Facebook users have been able to create lists for years now. However, according to Facebook, users complained about "how time-consuming it is to organize lists for different parts of your life and keep them up to date." The social network says that this should help address that problem.

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Correlations between Facebook's Smart Lists and similar features in other services, like Circles in Google+, will inevitably be drawn. Like Circles, Smart Lists is designed to make it easier for users to share only certain content with people in specific groups.

Facebook has already been targeted by critics for ostensibly following the lead of Google+. In July, the world's largest social network unveiled video calling--a feature that Google+ launched with earlier this year and that Facebook users had been hoping to have for quite some time.

At the event unveiling the new feature, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg brushed aside questions related to Google+ and its features, and instead continued to say that the launch was just the beginning of his company's "launching season 2011."

In addition to Smart Lists, Facebook has also unveiled a new "Close Friends and Acquaintances Lists" feature. That option lets users group their best friends into their "Close Friends" list, and all others into "Acquaintances." Users who do so will see all the updates from close friends, and only the most important updates from acquaintances, in their news feeds.

Unlike Smart Lists, the Close Friends and Acquaintances Lists feature is not hands-off, so users will need to pick people to add to the groups.

Facebook lets users group friends into different categories.
Facebook lets users group friends as "close friends" or "acquaintances." Facebook

However, since not everyone will fall into either category, Facebook says that users can not include folks in lists or add friends to the "Restricted" list. Upon doing so, those in the Restricted group will only be able to see the user's public posts.

To help users choose whom to add to all those lists, Facebook says that it will offer up suggestions.

Finally, Facebook announced today that the new lists come with their own news feeds, so users can opt to view content from only those folks in respective groups.

Facebook's latest update comes just a few weeks after the company announced a host of privacy improvements to help users take more control over what they share, and who sees their content. Those improvements included the ability to approve tags before they show up on the user's profile, as well as the option to keep posts private from certain people. The privacy level of each profile element can also be modified on the service.

Facebook's improved friend lists are scheduled to be made available to users this week.

This story was updated several times throughout the morning.