Not content to let Google+ hog the spotlight the day of its grand opening, Facebook caught many users off-guard last night as it rolled out a host of changes without much in the way or warning or direction. What's evident is that Facebook and Google+ are pulling out all stops to win over social networkers of the world, though at least one of the changes to Facebook may have users scrambling to alter their privacy settings and friends lists.
The timing of Facebook's move was not necessarily too surprising: Zuckerberg and company correctly view Google+ as a threat to their platform's popularity, judging by the quantity and types of changes it has made since its rival's platform was born. What better way to retain attention on the day of Google+'s coming-of-age celebration than by setting off noisy fireworks outside?
What's concerning, though, is the nature of some of the changes that Facebook has made to counter Google+ in this matchup. At least one feature is almost certainly going to generate controversy: A new mini feed, combined with Facebook's new Subscription options, makes it disturbingly easy to effectively eavesdrop on fellow Facebook friends -- that is, to peer in on exchanges between your Facebook friends, both with mutual pals and people who are complete strangers to you. This should be of particular concern for all the Facebook users who use the site both to interact with real-life friends on a personal level, as well as family members, coworkers, and colleagues.
The new mini feed is, in and of itself, pretty cool and potentially useful. It appears in a small box to the right of your main stream and provides updates on actions your Facebook connections have taken that you might have missed. You can scroll through the mini feed and click on a notification, which gives you the ability to view the associated interaction more closely without having to abandon the page you're on.
This can be handy in that if can let you easily see what comments your connections have made about mutual friends' photos, links, and musings. You might also see that a mutual friend "likes" a band or celebrity you're into.
The troubling part is that with Facebook's new subscription features, you can subscribe to users' Likes and comments. By their nature, Likes and particularly comments can be fairly personal. They used to be relatively shrouded by tenuous privacy barriers, but now, they're extremely easy to follow.