Technology

Facebook Makeover Faces Backlash


By Tony Bradley

Facebook gave its homepage a makeover…again. Last Friday the social networking site quietly rolled out some fairly significant changes to the way information is displayed on your homepage. The updates make the default feed more like it was before the last major homepage overhaul, but the changes aren't without some issues, and they have sparked some backlash among Facebook users.

The GoodWhen Facebook changed the homepage earlier this year, it went to a more Twitter-like feed of real-time status updates. Basically, every status update from your network of friends is displayed in as it is entered without any filtering.

The new Facebook homepage News Feed brings relevance back to the main feed. Rather than displaying everything from everyone, the News Feed uses a Facebook magic algorithm to display only the posts and status updates that your network is interested in. The more likes, comments or interactions a post within your network has, the more likely it will appear within your News Feed.

Robert Scoble, a technology evangelist and social networking guru, described the change on his blog "This makes Facebook much more useful because you only see the items that your friends have found important enough to comment on or "touch" in some way. Overnight my news feed went from something that looked pretty cold and lame to something that has tons of 'warmth.'"

The changes, which merge the Highlights back into the News Feed, also allow for the Events box in the right panel to move higher on the page. That is great news to me because frankly I never saw it with the previous design so it has been months since I have known if it was someone's birthday today.

The BadThe complete real-time stream still exists, but now its called the Live Feed. While you are viewing the default News Feed, a bubble next to the Live Feed link keeps a running tally of the number of posts you're missing in the Live Feed.

You can click over and view the real-time stream. One problem though is that the Live Feed continues to refresh as new posts are entered. Each time that happens the screen changes focus and you have to scroll to figure out where you were when your reading got interrupted. Facebook needs to figure out how to stream the updates without refreshing the screen or changing focus while you're in the middle of reading.

There is also a problem created by the new News Feed. You have your network of friends on Facebook because those are the people you are interested in networking with. But, because Facebook displays the comments from your friends, as well as comments from their friends, you end up with comments from users you are not networked with and excess noise to read through.

Scoble points out "Twitter, on the other hand, doesn't have comments. So you can't easily have a back and forth conversation about something like you can over on FriendFeed or Facebook. But it has a HUGE advantage: I only see items from people I invited to get on my home screen."

The BacklashIt seems inevitable that any change in the way Facebook displays information is met almost instantly with some sort of organized backlash. It is both ironic and apropos that users leverage the social network, using Fan Pages and Groups, to organize grassroots uprisings to complain about Facebook changes they don't like.

The majority of the backlash seems to boil down to users who simply don't like change. It doesn't matter if the change is good or bad, what matters is that it forces them to alter the way they use and interact with Facebook and they don't appreciate having a new learning curve. There are also some legitimate issues as well though, like those I pointed out above.

The thing is, with over 300 million users you can't please everyone. Facebook says the changes were made based on feedback from users and possibly in response to the organized grassroots backlash from the last homepage update. Many users like the new changes, but over half a million have already joined the group CHANGE FACEBOOK BACK TO NORMAL!!

The changes made by Facebook make the default stream more 'cozy' and foster more interaction. The Live Feed is good too, but displaying the posts that are getting the most attention within the network helps engage more users in the conversation or get more users to connect and participate rather than just reading the status updates as they stream (quickly) past.

I have bad news for those whose day gets ruined when Faceboook doesn't look the same: it will continue to change. Everything does. Social networking in particular is a rapidly evolving medium and entities like Facebook and Twitter are aggressively trying to stay ahead of the curve and define how people use social networking.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com

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