So Facebook will finally allow users to group friends and control information flow based on friend type. For guys like Robert Scoble, who have 5,000 friends (the limit), this may be a way to finally sort through the real friends from the fans. It’s a much needed feature that people have been requesting for a long time.
It also shows the steady maturity of Facebook from a college network to a full on world network, where friendships, business contacts, family and other types of relationships need to be more fully described. And this is also as much about privacy as it is about organization – users will be able to limit the information that certain friend groups receive.
A few existing applications are going to be affected, like Slide’s Top Friends application, the most popular third party app on Facebook. Lots of other applications will likely need to be tweaked to work properly when this launches (so many of them access the friends list). And this will shut down at least one “startup” we’ve been tracking that was creating this exact feature as an application. At least they can quit now and stop putting good time and money after bad.
Building Facebook applications is a big dice roll. If it’s too popular or too obvious of an idea (even if it hasn’t been done yet), Facebook is just as likely to compete with you as pay a few bucks and just buy you (they are probably more likely to compete with you than buy you, actually).
Some developers will probably wonder if getting a cash grant from Facebook’s just-announced fbFund will lessen the likelihood of direct competition from the company. Only time will tell.
Update: Wired is writing about a slew of Facebook ad networks and the almost inevitable fact that Facebook will be competing with them directly, too. We’ve covered most of these: SocialMedia, VideoEgg, Lookery, fbExchange, and RockYou. Also mentioned are Cubics and Appfuel. Lots of brave souls racing to build a business before Facebook comes in and stomps all over the scene.