Project Dance Party: Facebook's Secret Twitter-Like Follow Feature

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Daily Crunch: Pastime Edition

Yesterday, news broke about a new feature Facebook is testing out called “Subscribe.” For a second, I thought it might be the equivalent of Twitter’s “follow” ability — that is, a feature which would let you follow the updates of someone that you’re not technically “friends” with on Facebook. Sadly, that’s not the case. Instead, this is simply a way for you to more closely follow someone you are already friends with (or fan pages), by getting alerts when they update. But that doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t working on the follow idea. In fact, last year, they definitely were.

Facebook had a secret project last year that involved testing how best to implement a Twitter-like follow feature on Facebook, multiple sources have confirmed to us. The name of the project? Project Dance Party.

But at some point, the project was scrapped. It’s not entirely clear why, as at one point, it was being fairly widely tested within Facebook, we’re told.

In fact, apparently it looked similar to this new Subscribe feature that is currently being tested. It existed as the top link under a user’s profile picture that read: “Follow NAME”. Clicking on this allowed you to see all of that user’s public updates in your News Feed — without the user needing to accept a connection request from you. Yes, just like Twitter.

The thought amongst some familiar with the project was that it was a knee-jerk reaction to the failed acquisition of Twitter in late 2008. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently stated that he thinks he “paid too much attention” to Twitter following the failed bid. “I looked at their rate and thought if this continues for 12 months or 18 months, then in a year they’re going to be bigger than us,” he told Inside Facebook in June of this year.

His plan to catch them? Project Dance Party. An asymmetric follow feature could make Facebook grow even faster — like Twitter, may have been the thought.

But over time, Zuckerberg saw Twitter’s insane rate of growth slow down. And Project Dance Party likely became less interesting to him because it would mean fundamentally changing Facebook’s friend network and social graph.

But that doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t keeping it on the back-burner. Some of the same sources with knowledge of Project Dance Party now wonder if this Subscribe feature isn’t the first step towards a follow feature. This may be a way to break this ice, as it were. Maybe at first you “subscribe” to friends you want to follow, but later you’ll be able to subscribe to the public updates of anyone.

In fact, Facebook already has a follow feature in place right now — it’s just that most people have no idea it exists, because Facebook doesn’t talk about it. Currently, if you request to be someone’s friend, and they keep you in their queue (meaning they never accept or reject you), you will see all of their public updates in your News Feed.

It’s ridiculous for an actual feature to work this way — but it is essentially Facebook Follow. Clearly, Facebook is still open to the idea in some form.

Obviously, I’m all for a full-fledged version of this. And not just because at one point it had the name Project Dance Party. Facebook’s sharing dynamic has become too convoluted. They need to bring it back to a basic idea: either you share with your friends, or you share with your followers (which includes your friends). It’s an either/or proposition. Sure, lists could still exist to create sub categories of friends. But as Zuckerberg himself has said recently, “nobody wants to make lists.”

Instead, perhaps they’d like to dance. Facebook, just dance.

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