Facebook Custom Lists – How they work and how to create them, not necessarily in that order.

We all agree that Facebook’s News Feed sucks. Neither the Top Stories nor Most Recent settings will get you everyone you might want to track, because NOBODY understands how their algorithm works (the magic that selects whose posts show up on top or at all in the feed).

And with over 675 Friends in my feed, chances are excellent that you might post something but I’ll never see it unless I go look.

Facebook introduced lists a long time ago (a couple of years, at least) but I generally don’t use their smart function because, honestly, I’d rather not tell Facebook who my family members are. So I’ve set up a variety of lists that serve the purpose of staying in touch without worrying so much about the newsfeed.

You can set up as many as you want, add them to Favorites, sort them however you wish. But be careful you’re not setting up a Group (because that’s different – Groups let people communicate with each other, but Lists are just for you).

How?

See that blue bar at the top of the Facebook page? The one with the white square and blue “f”? Good. Looking to the right, you see a white bar (the Search bar) followed by a very small version of your Profile Picture (or silhouette if you’ve never set a Profile picture before).

Click on your name and you’ll see all sorts of things that are specific to you. There’s lots of stuff here, but what matters is the Friends link that appears at the bottom of the big “Cover” image. It should show Friends and a grayed out number (the number of Friends, with some tweaking, because Facebook doesn’t want you to know when someone drops you). But I digress.

Clicking on the Friends link will bring you to a page full of names and Profile Pictures.

You’ll also see a box to the right of the name that has a checkmark and Friends in it. This is the box you want when you’re first setting up the lists.

Mousing over the box gets you the following:

Get Notifications
Close Friends Acquaintances Add to Another List…
Suggest Friends See Friendship
Report/Block Unfriend

Now, Close Friends and Acquaintances are Facebook-driven lists. You can add people to either one and “guarantee” that either you’ll always see their posts or rarely see them, depending. Consigning someone to “Acquaintances” sets the algorithm up so that when you choose to set your privacy on a post to “Friends except Acquaintances” everyone on your Friends list will see the post EXCEPT those people on your Acquaintances list.

It’s a handy setting for folks you’ve never met in real life, or with whom you have a business-only relationship. If you post more personal stuff (as I do, occasionally), you can filter those posts out of other people’s feeds by being selective about who can see what you post.

Lists all work this way, to some extent, but custom lists allow you to further filter, based on your association with the person.

So let’s set up a List and call it Childhood. If you have a few Friends you’ve known since you were in elementary/primary school, you can add people to that list.

Find the first name that fits the List. Hover over the Friends link and then click on Add to Another List…(If the list box goes under the bottom of your screen, use the scroll bar on the right and scroll the Friends list up until you can fit the whole box.)

At the bottom of the list, you’ll see “+ New List. You may also see lists with a little lightning symbol next to them on the right. These are SMART lists, generated by your association with companies or other people’s connections to you. (If a Friend also worked at a company with you and tells Facebook you worked there, you’ll see that lightning symbol next to the list name. I don’t use these lists at all.)

Click on the “+ New List” link and name your new list Childhood. As soon as you do, you’ll see not just that the list now exists, but that there’s a checkmark next to it on the left. That means you’ve applied this list membership to the person in question.

You can go through the steps and mark other people who also qualify this way. Be warned, though. Facebook limits the number of lists that will actually display on your home page to a total of twelve, so if you add too many lists, you won’t see the list and won’t be able to select it from the Home page to use as a feed.

Done adding people to the list? Great. Go back to the Home page. (That’s the link up to the right of your name in the blue bar.)

Now you should see, in order of precedence:

News Feed
Messages
Events
Pages you control (if any)
And your new Childhood list.

Underneath that, you may see Groups you’ve added to Favorites, followed by PAGES, GROUPS, FRIENDS, APPS, INTERESTS and more.

Click on the Childhood list and you’ll see content from the people you’ve added to the list, just like any other news feed option.

Best of all, Facebook hasn’t dumped the options list completely. If you click on Manage List (to the right under Facebook’s randomly selected photo), you can Rename the list, Edit the members of the list, and show the following:

Status Updates
Photos
Games (I turn this off for EVERYTHING)
Comments and Likes
Music and Videos
Other Activity

You can also Delete List, if you don’t like the group you’ve selected, though I find it easier to relabel and repurpose the list instead of deleting it.

And that’s it. Lots of time invested, but a better way to manage all the people you know on Facebook, especially if you have a long list of Friends like me.

Now if I could just figure out how to change the photo at the top of my custom list…

Comments:

BC: Does “close friends” actually show everything people post? I know a normal list doesn’t.

RB-E: I really need to do this. I have one question–when you make a list like this, does it immediately start telling you every time a friend comments or likes something on someone else’s page? The FB lists do, and that’s why I don’t use them. I don’t care when a friend comments or likes the page of someone I don’t know, and I don’t like it when that information shows up in my newsfeed.

Me: I don’t know, BC. I never use Facebook’s version, because I don’t know what they’re doing with the data. If I never connect my close friends to my account, they can’t use that info. Ditto for Family. I get to control who I label that way if I use a custom list..

SD: If you uncheck “Comments and Likes” under :”Manage List”, that list won’t include the times that people comment or like something.

Me: I *think* you can control that information using the Manage List options. You can test it by turning off Comments and Likes (which I think is what makes those things show up in your feed). It’s also possible that Other Activity is what makes those things show up. Facebook is entirely silent on the topic of managing lists, so you have to use trial and error to set the list the way you want it.

Theoretically, true, SD. I just tried it and couldn’t make the comment I was seeing go away, so I’m not entirely sure about that.

SD: Huh. They don’t show up on my custom lists, but then again I uncheck most options other than status updates as soon as I create the list. Maybe it stops showing new ones from the point at which you uncheck it?

Me: SD’s on to something. Under Manage Lists, deselect everything except Status Updates. The Likes are definitely controlled by Comments and Likes and the “Has now friended X” goes away when you unclick Other Activity. If you don’t mind the Photos, Music and Videos, you can leave those in, but if they’re just clutter, ditch them, too.

SD: I suspect that Facebook is trying to encourage the use of custom lists, which is why they’ve removed the options list from individuals and kept it on custom lists. They need to publicize them more heavily though – I think the reason most people don’t use them is that they don’t know about them. They take almost no time to set up, unless you have several thousand friends, and they make it much easier to browse quickly for the posts you’re most interested in seeing.

RB-E: Awesome, thanks! I’ll have to do some Facebook pruning to see if I can get my newsfeed back to what I want.

DK: thanks. I sent you a PM. thanks for explaining things. I appreciate it.

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