Facebook Announces Subscribe Button

Some days, you have to write two blog entries…

Facebook is on a mission, launching new features at a furious pace. Today Facebook announced the launch of a Subscribe button.

Just like yesterday’s announcement of improved friend lists, I don’t yet have access to the update. So my response at this point is merely speculation.

So here is what Facebook has to say about the feature:

In the next few days, you’ll start seeing this button on friends’ and others’ profiles. You can use it to:

  1. Choose what you see from people in News Feed
  2. Hear from people, even if you’re not friends
  3. Let people hear from you, even if you’re not friends
Facebook Subscribe Button

Facebook announces another new feature: The Subscribe button. (Click the image for a close-up)

So, there are multiple layers here.

First, you can individually subscribe to people who are already or will become your Facebook friends. The purpose for this is to control the types of content that appears in your stream. This may have usefulness. You may want to see more from some friends than others. Now, instead of hiding someone entirely, you can choose to see only specific types of content.

Second, you can now “subscribe” to someone’s public posts even if you aren’t Facebook friends. This way, those public posts will appear in your news feed. Would seem to be most useful when following celebrities, similar to such a one-way relationship on Twitter.

Of course, this goes both ways. Someone who is not your Facebook friend can subscribe to your public posts. If you aren’t a celebrity, this is a bit like stalking. According to Facebook:

If you’d like to share your public updates with more than just friends, you can get a Subscribe button on your profile, too. People who subscribe to you will get posts you set as “Public” in their News Feeds. This is an entirely optional feature – you need to opt in.

I know that you can remove the Subscribe button from your profile, but it’s not clear here if what is “optional” and “opt in” is the public content or the button itself. My assumption is that the button will be turned on for everyone, but that it can be turned off. Whether or not you make your content public is always optional.


I have no doubts that this latest release will stir the I Want My Privacy! crowd. This is the thing: The Subscribe button doesn’t make your information public. It simply makes your public information easier to follow.

If you don’t want your posts to be public, don’t write public posts. It’s not difficult to control. Even if you have a Subscribe button on your profile, your subscribers can read only what you make public. So this doesn’t really change anything. Always be smart about what you make public.


I don’t know… I see where Facebook is going with this. They are adopting (or “borrowing” or “stealing” depending on how you like to react to Facebook updates) a feature utilized by Twitter and Google+. It will certainly open up more unwarranted privacy attacks that will distract from the potential utility of the feature.

In the end, I think it’s pretty clear the majority of users don’t want their posts to be public, whether they intentionally share that information or not. So I don’t think regular users will want subscribers. But it could be good for following celebrities. Then again, isn’t that what Facebook pages are for?

I see two potential uses that may provide the greatest value: 1) Granting more control over the type of information you see from specific users, and 2) Encouraging and educating users about their public content.

Overall, this update may not be worthwhile. It adds levels of complexity, and Facebook users have been pretty clear that they don’t like that. There may be utility, but it may be more trouble to Facebook than it’s worth.

But if it does anything, it should hopefully — finally — help teach some Facebook users to be careful about what they share publicly. In the past, someone could go to your profile or pull up a Google search and see the embarrassing things you said. Now there will be an even easier way to follow your shenanigans.

My main question that I haven’t seen answered yet: When someone subscribes — particularly a non-Facebook friend — will you be notified? This could be the “stalking deterrent” that is needed here.

I just know, though, that the first time people start getting alerts that they have a new subscriber and they don’t know that person, freak-outs are going to kick into high gear.

But, people… Don’t blame the feature. Blame your inability to care for your own privacy.