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Facebook is trying to spark new connections with “things in common”

“A friend is just a stranger you haven’t met yet” is a particularly cloying (and not hugely true) expression, but Facebook is putting the theory to the test with a new experimental feature currently active in America.

CNET reports that the social network is engaging in a “small” test to see if highlighting links between strangers will get them talking. If you’re reading the comments on a public page, and there’s someone there from the same town or who went to the same university, a small label appears above their name highlighting this coincidence. E.g: “You both went to the University of Virginia.”

For now, it only highlights small details like shared companies or Facebook groups and there’s no unsubtle call to action. In an era where Facebook is under distinct pressure about its privacy policies, the social network is keen to highlight that it will only flag up information that is publicly available on your profile. If you don’t share your city or your work with anyone who stops by your profile, then it won’t appear here either.

“Knowing shared things in common helps people connect,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET. “We’re testing adding a ‘things in common’ label that will appear above comments from people who you’re not friends with but you might have something in common with.”

Related: Facebook privacy settings

Will online social etiquette prevents conversations from starting organically, or could this move change the way people interact? We’ll likely never know exact figures – but if Facebook rolls the feature out worldwide, then that’s a good indicator of at least modest success.

And it would fit with Facebook’s new mission statement too. Last July, the company made a subtle change to its goal, going from “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” to “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

It’s hard to think of a feature that sums up the latter more than this. And in an era where social networks are being critiqued for creating bigger divisions than ever, maybe a reminder of our shared commonalities is just what we need.

Is the ‘things in common’ feature handy or invasive? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews

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