Facebook, the fast-growing social network that claims more than 175 million users worldwide, unveiled product changes on Wednesday that...

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facebook, the fast-growing social network that claims more than 175 million users worldwide, unveiled product changes on Wednesday that it said will help enhance communications for both rank-and-file members and business, political and institutional entities that use the platform to convey messages to a broad audience.

“We are going to continue making the flow of information even faster and more customized to those you want to connect and communicate with, no matter how broadly or privately,” Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in blog posting.

The announcement comes in dynamic period for the 5-year-old Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, which Zuckerberg said is on pace to reach 200 million users “in the next couple of months.”

The new product changes, which began to roll out at noon Wednesday, would over time enable user “Profiles” to serve more as individual Web pages that could convey messages far beyond the current 5,000 “friend” limit, executives said.

Perhaps taking a cue from Twitter, the rising service for letting people express themselves in 140 characters or less and keep up with what celebrities have to say, Facebook said Wednesday it will let users follow public figures, such as President Obama and swimmer Michael Phelps, bands like U2 and even institutions like The New York Times.

A “tour” of the coming changes showed, for example, that users will be able to more easily categorize their Facebook “friends” into separate and sometimes overlapping subgroups, such as “family,” “close friends,” and “co-workers.”

Posting links easier

Another change will enable users to more easily post links, photos or videos with their comments into the “stream” of information to and from the Facebook site.

Beginning next Wednesday, Facebook will also launch a redesigned home page that lets users receive continuous updates from their friends instead of every 10 or 15 minutes.

Facebook will also tweak its central feature, the status update, which now invites people to broadcast to their friends a response to “What are you doing right now?” Responses can now range from mundane to poetic to uncomfortably personal.

Facebook’s new question, “What’s on your mind?” may encourage people to dig deeper into their subconscious and post more entertaining updates than “Kevin is updating Facebook.”

In hopes of avoiding complaints that followed past redesigns, the company posted a preview of the changes Wednesday and invited feedback.

The goal, Facebook executives said, is for a “convergence” of Profiles and Pages that creates a more dynamic user experience while maintaining privacy controls through better filters controlled by the user.

In announcing the changes, Facebook product executive Chris Cox described the site as a new communications medium that has the potential of delivering a kind of personalized newspaper.

Users may opt in for news bulletins from trusted sources or follow their favorite pursuits. Facebook on Monday unveiled its new Marketplace feature, which hopes to turn classified advertising into a more social experience.

Some business observers say Facebook is hoping to knock off Yahoo, MSN and Google as the favored “home page” of Internet users, which would make it more attractive to advertisers.

Facebook board member Marc Andreessen recently said the site could easily generate more revenue with banner ads, but instead has chosen to protect the users’ experience. Zuckerberg said he didn’t know how many people use Facebook as their default home page, but about half of users visit the site daily.

Better engagement would enhance Facebook’s bottom line by enabling more targeted advertising, Zuckerberg said, and could lead to other business models. He did not offer specifics.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.