What makes Facebook different to sites like Twitter and Flickr? What gives Facebook that unique ability to feel like it's an online representation of your real life, and not some weird cyber netherworld?

Partly, it's because it demands users use their real names, much like Google are now trying to enforce with Google+. But there's another factor as well - Facebook, unlike most other services, uses a 'symmetric' model of connecting people. If you want to add someone as a Friend on Facebook, you have to ask their permission - and if they accept, they won't just be in your Friends list, you'll be in theirs. By contrast, on sites like Flickr and Twitter, the model isn't 'friending,' but 'following' - you can follow who you like, and for them to add you back is totally optional. It's more flexible, but it means you're more likely to follow people you don't know in real life - hence the number of celebrities on Twitter. They're 'asymmetrical.'

So it's super-interesting that Facebook has just taken a big ol' step in the direction of a more asymmetrical approach. You'll still need to approve friend requests, but now you can enable people who aren't your friend to 'subscribe' to your public posts. That means if you post something everyone can see, now people can make it so they're alerted to the fact.

This has probably been inevitable since Facebook started letting people share publically a couple of years ago, and could be very helpful for those who want to develop a public brand on FB but still share some stuff with just friends. But it'll be interesting to see if, in the long run, it changes the feel of the site and takes it away from that friendly feel that's so central to its success. Don't worry if you don't like the sound of it, though - allowing people to subscribe to your public updates is opt-in.

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