If you enable this option then people who subscribe to you need not be your Facebook friends and they will see your public posts pop up in their news feeds. They will be able to determine which items they see using a drop down box attached to the Subscribe button. Its not quite as simple as clicking on a “Follow” button and getting all updates (and that will probably be a criticism) but it does help users keep unwanted noise out of their streams, especially if they can now start following a lot more people.
What I find interesting about this option is that it means my public Facebook page (Update: I’ve removed my Facebook page from view after enabling the subscription link on my Facebook profile where you can follow me now) becomes unnecessary. Facebook will offer an option for people to merge their public Pages with their profiles and migrate fans across as subscribers. I created my Page as a way to share stuff publicly without compromising my privacy settings for personal profile posts. What that did, though, was split my identity across Facebook between my profile and my Page. The Subscribe button and the planned migration option will allow me to consolidate my identity on Facebook. I use a couple of external apps and services to post to Facebook automatically. These include Tumblr, Wordbooker (for posts from this blog) and Instagram.
I just noticed that these app settings include the ability to control the app’s publication settings. I can adjust my Tumblr and Wordbooker settings, for example, to publish stuff to my Public stream while other services will publish to my Friends stream by default. That automates a lot of the work I would otherwise need to do if I start sharing some things publicly and other things more privately. Its also functionality which makes Facebook a little more appealing than Google+ where I still have to publish stuff manually. App publication settings are very smart and very useful if you intend enabling this Subscribe option on your profile.
Another benefit is that people I otherwise wouldn’t friend on Facebook can still follow my public updates and I can clean up my bloated friends lists a little more.
Thinking about Google+ a little more, Facebook’s new sharing controls are very much like Google+’s privacy/publicity settings for its posts and while I still can’t edit all the typos I manage to include in my Facebook posts like I can on Google+, it is a little easier to control who gets to see what on Facebook. Improved friend lists take some of the work out of manually allocating friends to lists (which is what you need to do on Google+ and a Google+ criticism) and surfaces the previously buried functionality which, as Google+ has shown, really does have some value. In fact, a number of changes to Facebook seem to be inspired by Google+ and this is a great example of how we, as users, benefit from increased competition in the space. If you read extensively about Google+ in the early weeks, you may even remember a few people commenting that Google+’s goal may not be to supplant Facebook but to make it better. That is what we are seeing now.
Facebook may still play 2nd or 3rd fiddle to Twitter and Google+ but its becoming a better sharing platform because of its relative position to those competitors.