Change Of Face(book)

Over past Facebook changes I have largely, roundly, and imaginatively derided complainers. I have a very long, somewhat impolite, and happily unpublished blog post to that end somewhere, regarding the last facebook restructuring, and I still have very little patience with people who whine, cry, and generally carry on obnoxiously about every single thing Facebook changes. No good reasons, no quantitative analysis, or in depth discussion – mostly just a pity-party of complainers.

I know, most people may not be good at analyzing and comparing things, and/or don’t have the time – but they still find the time to complain without a second thought. The least they could do is be respectful about it, and (*gasp*) say something about why they don’t like it. Face it: posting things like “it STINKS!!! i hate facebook now it sucks and its different and what were you smoking?” does not inspire any respect at all and is mostly un-helpful.

So in the interest of my own opinions on whiners, I will not whine about the changes. I will attempt to compare the current UI iteration thoughtfully to past versions and provide insight into why most of you hate facebook so much right now, or at least did last week. And I apologize for the length of this post, but it seems I can’t do things like this by halves. To my knowledge, this is the most thorough analysis of Facebook’s interface changes ever published.

Anyway, here’s my nut-shelled opinion: I think the layout took a couple steps forward and a whole bunch of baby steps backward. The changes have been made in the name of simplicity and ease of use. It is definitely more simple. However, it is visually less structured (i.e., more cluttered), does not always work the way I want or expect it too, and does not provide me with as much control or value. If it does not do what I want it too, ease of use tanks as well. This is a case where simpler is not necessarily better.

Goodness

Filtering based on friend lists
This is really nice – it’s the one major feature I wanted in the old facebook that wasn’t there.

Layout
The layout *is* simpler. For the most part, the underlying concept of the new facebook is pretty good, with exceptions noted below.

Badness
In the Operational Unintuitions Category
(Or, assumptions about user behavior which might not be quite right)

The post box operation is nebulous
It looks the same everywhere, but can behave very differently depending what page it’s on. It is completely unclear that posting on your own wall is different than posting on someone else’s, which has been very aptly demonstrated by my newly-facebookified mother, who replied to multiple wall posts by setting her status. The concept of a “status” is completely hidden unless you already know how it works.

  • This could be easily remedied – for starters, change the post button text to say “Set Status” when on your own profile page, unless posting a special type of content.

(See also the note on post format – either change the format so it works better, or split statuses back out to a separate entity. And the “What’s on your mind?” line is a bit hokey, but I can’t think of anything better than “Post stuff” or “What do you want to share today?”)

The Recent activity thing is confusing
Labeling activity on the wall as “recent” serves no useful purpose for two reasons:
1) I can figure out if yesterday is recent on my own, thank you, based on the post’s timestamp
2) The “Recent Activity” boxes are all through the wall, even if the activity is no longer recent. This makes the term “Recent” totally useless.

This is/was done (I think) because it is easier to filter programmatically and visually groups wall posts and informational stuff separately. However, it would still be better to use the “Today”, “Yesterday”, “Some other day” headings, grouping the posts and other activity underneath. The smart date headings were great because they are very simple, require no interpretation, and (most important!) give the user control over what they think is “recent” enough to be interesting. I honestly don’t care if it’s recent, I just care if it’s interesting to me and generally when it happened.

The single “delete” button is not intuitive
When I click it, I do not expect a particular friend to stop showing up on my news feed, I expect to just get rid of (or de-rate) that particular post or post type. The friend-based behavior is redundant – news feed supposedly already rates somewhat based on friend activity/interaction. This is an example where simplification is completely irrelevant – it’s simpler, sure, but it a) isn’t very useful and b) doesn’t work the way users expect.

Wall post filtering is not designed from a user’s perspective
This one is sticky. The wall has been restructured for ease of use by everyone but the person who owns the profile. The defaults should be to show user+friends, with option to show only friends or only user. The current settings emphasize broadcasting the activity of the user, rather than letting the user choose how they want their wall to work and be used.

Wall posts no longer have a “Reply” link
This is a UI dilemma – it’s a duplicate feature. Yes, you can just as easily post on a friends wall by clicking their name or on the “Wall-to-Wall” link, but if I’m replying, I look for a “reply” link. It’s not intuitive to click one of the other links. It would be amazingly intuitive to click “reply” and have a post box drop down (or pop up), like a comment, only it would post directly to the friend’s wall instead of commenting. This would be a killer feature.

The new feed is a lot of information in a huge, daunting list
It’s very hard to get useful information out of so much data. The old feed algorithm provided a much better balance and control over what showed up – now I have almost no useful control. See also the note above about wall post activity/date headings.

I no longer have control of post types in the News Feed
Before, there were preferences with sliders to customize the type of content that came across my feed. Now the only way to do that is manually, with application filters. Not good.

And now in the Visual Miscues section…

Post format is visually muddled
Previously, the name of the poster was in a sort of header and the message was separate. The current run-on format is harder to read because it is not visually well-defined. It works great for statuses, but nobody writes wall posts like statuses. Heck, most people don’t write statuses like statuses. For wall posts, a better balance between space and readability would be good – even just putting a break between the name and post.

The new feed is harder to read – no visual formatting!
The old news feed formatting was much easier to read – the “Today” “Yesterday” etc. headings broke down the news feed into smaller, more easily parsable chunks. (The abbreviated & more compact format helped, too.) Coupled with the more mashed post formatting, it’s much harder to read the news feed.

Miscellaneous UI quirks

  • The rounded images look icky and ill-defined. Keep the sharp, square, refined look.
  • Can we please put pokes with other notifications or something? Burying them in the middle of the right-hand sidebar has always bugged me, it makes no sense.
  • Group invites & friend requests should go back over on the right hand side with events, pokes, etc. They get lost visually at the top, even if it makes sense grammatically.
  • Highlights are pretty useless. It looks messy and is distracting. I want the relevant stuff I like to show up in my feed, not over there. Reformatting them could help, or put some sort of visual break between the news feed and highlights.
  • People You May Know should be hideable. It’s useless to me – I want the option of not seeing it, like I had in a couple versions ago with apps on the profile page.

My Big Solution:
Put all invites, events, pokes, and notifications on the right-hand sidebar. Group as necessary for ease of use. Limit the amount of space notifications can take up, or make it say “You have 23 notifications” and the link unzips it.

So there’s my take. Hope it’s useful.

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2 thoughts on “Change Of Face(book)

  1. Well, I had just started on Facebook before they made their big changes so was not all that familiar with it before – except that I knew SOMETHING had changed. And I kept hearing people gripe about how horrible it was and that they wanted them to bring back the OLD facebook. You are the only one I know who actually took the time to say just exactly what the issues are. Ever apply for a job with them?? Maybe you could help? 🙂 – Linda D

    • Ah, maybe. Maybe not. People always gripe before they understand things (including me, often), and some of those issues have actually been cleared up in subsequent FB tweaks. It was fun to write, anyway…

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