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Facebook's new "smart lists" will automatically organize friends by affiliation, starting with work, school, family and city. The social-networking behemoth says that users can still manually exclude people.
 Facebook Annouced that it is tweaking the way members can organize and view their network's activities by automatically creating lists of friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
Facebook, which is rolling out the changes this week, is adopting a combination of features already seen with rival Google+ and startup Katango Inc.
Facebook will offer "smart lists" that automatically organize friends by affiliation, starting with four categories: work, school, family and city.
And members will be able to populate lists of "close friends" and "acquaintances," or a "restricted" list for people such as a boss who doesn't need to know everything going on in their lives.
Facebook has long been trying to solve what Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg last year called the "the biggest problem in social networking" - getting people comfortable enough with their own networks to share more of their lives online without the fear of exposing too much to the wrong people.
In the past, Facebook has given members ways to manually organize friends into specific lists. Originally, the social network was organized by specific universities, and it later connected members by geography.
The company introduced Friends Lists in 2007, but last October, Zuckerberg said only 5 percent of Facebook members bothered to organize their friends into these specific lists. A spokesman said members "told us that they were difficult to find and keep updated."
So Facebook introduced an updated Groups feature that let members organize their own small private circles of friends based on mutual interests. Since then, Facebook members have created more than 50 million of these groups.
Facebook now says it wants to take the work out of organizing friend lists.
"Managing lists is boring," Facebook's director of product, Blake Ross, said in a blog post. The new system, he said, will make it "easier than ever to see more from the people you care about and simpler to share with exactly the right people."
"Want to see posts from your closest friends? Or perhaps you'd like to share a personal story with your family - without also telling all your co-workers," he wrote.
For smart lists, Facebook will take information in members' public profiles and look for similarities. "For instance, if you list Boston College as a school you've attended and your friends John and Sarah do, too, then you would instantly have a smart list called 'Boston College' with John and Sarah on it," Ross said.
Members can still manually exclude someone they don't want in the group.
Facebook will also compile lists of close friends and acquaintan-ces, but these are manual lists like those that already exist. And members who already created friends lists can continue to use them.
Google won praise from privacy advocates and technology pundits in June when it launched the rival Google+ social network, which included the ability to manually organize friends into different Circles. The feature made it easier for Google+ members to chose which friends would see photos, links and other information.
And in July, Palo Alto's Katango introduced an iPhone app that used algorithms developed by Stanford University artificial intelligence researchers to automatically organize a person's social network into groups such as family, close friends and co-workers. The app can also include members who are not on Facebook.
Katango, originally funded in part by Facebook, introduced a Web-based version of the app this month.
"Google+ validated the idea of friend lists, Katango delivered on automatic friend organization and now Facebook is benefiting from both," said David Berkowitz, vice president of emerging media for digital-marketing agency 360i.
"Facebook can make Katango irrelevant overnight with the new friend organization, and for me at least, it's a welcome return to the friend lists that (Facebook) seemed to abandon before Google+ came around," Berkowitz said.
But Katango vice president of product, Yee Lee, said Facebook's announcement was "fantastic" and an "affirmation from the market leader that lists are important."
Lee said his company is not worried that Facebook or other social-media companies would replicate "exactly what we do" because of Katango's patented algorithms.
"We think we can do a better job at automatically organizing a user's social life via our algorithms," he said.

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