Facebook One-Ups Twitter With Subscribe Button That Tells Friends When You Click

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Facebook wasn’t kidding when it announced yesterday that an embeddable button allowing people to subscribe to someone’s public updates was on the way. Today it officially released the Subscribe button, noting that when clicked “The subscribe action is also shared — allowing others to subscribe directly via the News Feed stories, and further increasing viral distribution.” This gives Facebook’s button a distinct advantage over Twitter’s, as the action of following someone through Twitter’s button doesn’t appear in the main tweet stream, only a secondary stream. A “Follow” click will probably only nab you 1 follower, but a “Subscribe” click could create a viral chain that nets you many new Subscribers.

Developers can add the button to their sites via XFBML or Iframe, and choose whether to display an author’s Subscriber count and the faces of existing subscribers. Above are the 3 available designs. The button is already live on many news sites including The Daily Beast / Newsweek, The Huffington Post, TIME.com, washingtonpost.com, and some of TechCrunch’s author drop-downs. To see it in action, click the arrows beside my name at the top of this article.

For sites, the Subscribe buttons will serve as a powerful complement the Facebook’s Like Box plugin, which lets people Like a Facebook Page while on an external website. For individual content producers, it will also make the Subscribe feature a more adequate alternative  to creating a Facebook Page which must be managed separately. There’s still a major problem with Subscribe, in that you have to publish to your friends in order to reach your Subscribers, which I wrote about yesterday and outlined some possible solutions for. With any luck, a fix will be the Subscribe team’s next priority.

Facebook is now clearly looking to usurp for Twitter’s role as the place to follow public figures. By publishing news feed stories of an author’s link to the friends of those who click the button, Facebook has found a way to make promoting its button more lucrative than its competitor’s. Authors will appreciate the viral bump, though users might not necessarily want their subscription actions shared even though that info is technically public, Not only will the buttons create more interconnections on Facebook, but their presence around the web will raise awareness of the feature and get more users to opt into to allowing subscribers.