tech talk

The debate continues: Why do we love to hate "new Facebook"?

The debate continues: Why do we love to hate "new Facebook"?

Austin Photo Set: News_Sam_Facebook changes_September 2011_1

I’m the kind of Facebook user that usually has the site open all day, checking back periodically to see if there are any embarrassing photos, Onion articles or “likes” that demand my immediate attention.

So when the site implements one of its increasingly frequent layout changes—like it did last night —the effects are immediate. And so is the backlash. 

From “What the eff is going on?” to “This sux I QUIT,” the response to even the slightest change in Facebook’s interface seems to send people into a tailspin of confusion and despair (same, to a lesser degree, with the New Twitter that’s been rolling out over the past few months).

I get that it can be jarring to refresh a familiar site, only to be met with unexpected changes. But the immediate dismissal of updates, along with commentary that Facebook “has no idea what it’s doing,” does bother me.

Full disclosure: I’m halfway to a Master’s in Interface Design and Usability. Not only am I very aware of how much testing and research goes into something like this, but I also think—hold back the angry mob—that this recent round of changes is actually quite intuitive and is a better use of space than previous versions. 

It’s true that the new layout is a wee bit more crowded than the old. Only the main page has changes, though, and for the most part, the central feed maintains the same design, just with the addition of the mini-feed and chat list to the right.

And before this update, the corner now occupied by a mini news ticker didn’t have a whole lot to offer; the valuable real estate on the right side of the page was occupied by ads, redundant links to events—which already appeared in the left navigation—and visual reminders of all your exes and ex-friends (aka “People You Might Know”). 

So, the update: helpful or confusing? Let’s break this down. 

Helpful!

  • No more Status Update box at the top of the feed! That thing just took up space, and it’s still easy to post links and updates in two clicks.
  • The ticker’s fixed—meaning that, as you scroll, it stays in place, so you won’t miss any updates (this could be a pro or a con, depending on how easily distracted you are).
  • Bigger photos, fewer clicks: you can hover to see enlarged images, making stalking much more simple.

Confusing?

  • The mini-feed displays some similar content as the main feed—it’s not like we only see new friends, likes or photo comments in one place (not on mine, anyways). Why is some stuff in the main feed, and some on the mini? It would be more helpful if we could expect to see only certain types of updates on the ticker.
  • I get that Facebook thinks it knows what I want to see (ok, it does: three of the “recommended” stories in my feed this morning included photos of cats), but the promotion of certain posts over others means it’s easier to miss non-recommended posts.

The bottom line? Yes, the updates will take a little getting used to. Just like rearranging your room, trying a new kind of pizza and other seriously minor life changes. This is technology; its very nature is to be constantly evolving to better serve you and suit your needs. Adding an extra news module and making certain types of content easier to digest are certainly steps down that road. And, let’s not forget, Facebook is a free thing that we opt into, a place to waste time when we’re not busy studying or working or blogging or doing one of the many other activities we love that also require constant learning and adaptation. 

The Phoenix New Times has an excellent list of the top five reasons why you should stop freaking out (namely: because these changes make the site better, but also, #1: “They’ll be changing it again—next week”).

So quit complaining, take a few minutes to orient yourself on the site and enjoy the updates on your friends’ lunch plans, in to-the-second time. 

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