Facebook lists versus Google+ circles: Why circles give you more control

Facebook lists are not as good as Google+ circles for giving you control over who sees your posts. Like many Facebook privacy settings the behavior of custom Facebook lists is not obvious, which makes them difficult to use properly. Facebook offers the option to exclude people from posts using lists or individual names, which seems like a good privacy feature, but it actually makes it more likely that your post will be seen by people you didn’t intend to see it. In contrast, Google+ circles are much simpler to use making it much more clear who will see your posts.

Facebook Lists and Google+ Circles: What are they?

When you accept a Facebook friend request by default that person becomes a part of your Friends list. They will always be on your Friends list. You can also add the person to the pre-built Facebook lists: Close Friends, Acquaintances  or Family, or you can create custom Facebook lists and add people to those.

When you post something to Facebook you can share with the Public (everyone can see it), just your Friends (i.e. everyone whose friend request you’ve accepted), a specific list or a custom group of people. When you create a custom setting you can share your post with multiple people and lists. Facebook custom settings also allow you to exclude people and lists from seeing your post. That is, you may want to share your bachelorette party photos with all your Facebook friends except your mom, your future mother-in-law and your future spouse. (Hopefully you can trust your friends to be as considerate when they post their pictures of the event.)

In Google+ you must add people to at least one circle in order to follow them. There is no default circle. Each person can be in one or more circles. That is someone might be a “College Friend” and a “Local Friend” and a “Co-worker.”

When you post something to Google+ you can either share it with Public, with Your Circles (anyone in any of your circles can see it), with Extended Circles (your circles and their circles) or to one or more specific circles or even specific people. You cannot exclude. To know why that is actually a good thing jump to item 2 in the list below.

Why Google+ circles are better than Facebook lists

  1. Unless you are really diligent about maintaining your Facebook lists most people only be on your Friends list. This gives you very little control over who sees your posts. By forcing you to choose at least one circle for each person Google+ is helping to ensure you place people in meaningful groups.
  2. Exclude is a dangerous feature. On the surface it may seem like Facebook is better than Google+ because it has the exclude option, but exclude is a dangerous way to control audience. In the example above about excluding people from seeing your bachelorette party photos what happens when you forget to exclude your very religious future sister-in-law who you might not have even been Facebook friends with at the time? Or you forget to exclude your boss? Saying who can see something always give you more certainty than saying who can’t.
  3. Custom Facebook lists let people see who else is on the list. If you want to share a post with your custom list it will show the names of everyone with whom you shared the post. How serious a privacy breach this is will vary depending on the members of the list, but there is a faux pas aspect to this similar to sending an email to a lot of people with their addresses visible in the “to:” line rather than hidden as a “bcc:”UPDATE: Whoops! It seems like Google+ limited posts do the same thing. I guess both Facebook and Google+ suck at this. Use email instead!


Facebook lists privacy warning
Surprise! Facebook lets you share your posts with custom lists or specific people, but it will also let your friends know who made the cut.

I don’t share anything embarrassing, so does this really matter?

Although I always advise people not to share things online that if made public could damage their relationships, career or non-incarcerated status, that doesn’t mean everything should be made public. Most of us have things that we prefer to only share with a smaller group of people. Maybe you want to limit who sees pictures of your kids. Maybe you want just a few opinions on something, or you aren’t ready to tell absolutely everyone your news. It’s nice to have that control.

Even if you don’t care if everyone knows something, limiting your audience helps to control noise coming from your social media accounts. For example, a post about an event in Chicago is pretty meaningless to my friends from Pittsburgh. By sending posts for a specific interest group only to that interest group I can keep my social media interactions more meaningful. Google+ circles allow me to do that easily.

Better control of privacy for posts is only one feature of Google+ that I prefer over Facebook. I’ll be sharing more of what I like about Google+ and giving tips for using the site in the coming weeks. Make sure you don’t miss a post by subscribing to Listing Toward Forty by email. You can also keep in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and, of course, Google+.

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