Chastened Facebook Tweaks Home Page Design Again

Posted by: Rob Hof on March 24, 2009

The past three weeks since Facebook’s site redesign was announced haven’t been kind to the social networking phenom. Many users complained vociferously about the new design, which was intended to add more real-time content a la Twitter but ended up looking to too many people like a cluttered mess marked by photos and friend updates that disappeared mysteriously and too many “updates” from Facebook applications that smelled like spam.

So tonight, the company put out a lengthy memo to members outlining more changes to the home page, some of them clearly in response to the critics. In particular, the new Highlights section will “mirror more closely the content that the earlier News Feed provided.” The summary, after the jump:

Add more control and relevance in the stream

One of the great parts of Facebook is the ability to share and consume different types of content, such as photos, videos and notes, all in one place. We've heard from you that you want even more variety and control in your stream, and for it to update automatically. Some specific improvements we're making are:

* Live updating: One of the most common requests is the ability to see your stream update automatically. We will be adding the ability to turn on auto updating in the near future so you no longer need to refresh the page.
* Photo tags: In order to surface more photos you might like to see, we'll be adding photos tagged of your friends to the stream. This will happen in the coming weeks.
* More choices for applications: We've heard feedback that there is a lot of application content appearing in the stream. We will be giving you tools to control and reduce application content that your friends share into your stream.

Currently, the content filters on the left screen allow you to select the types of content you would like to see. Over time, we'll continue to give you more control over what's in your main stream and how you consume it. We have the eventual goal of building filters that summarize this activity so you can see a more condensed view of what's been going on. We're also thinking about ways of filtering out some of the Wall posts and content directed to specific people to focus more on posts shared with everyone.

See more Highlights

Right now, we're making improvements to the Highlights section on the right-hand side of your home page. Highlights will update more frequently and will show you more content throughout the day to mirror more closely the content that the earlier News Feed provided.

Find things more easily
It's important that you are able to find everything you're interested in, or we're not succeeding in giving you the right level of control. We're currently working on a few design changes to help you find these things more easily, such as:

* Moving requests to the top of the right column: Friend requests and event invites will be more prominent.

* Easier way to create a Friends List filter: From the filters on the left, you will be able to create a new list of friends with which to filter the stream.

Application bookmarks continue to live in the toolbar at the bottom left of the page. You can quickly access your groups, events and other favorite applications from the bottom bar on any page.

Some folks such as TechCrunch's Mike Arrington think Facebook should stick to its guns. I can't see how it's unwise to listen to customers, though. eBay did this kind of dance all the time with its users, and it worked well for a good decade, its recent troubles more of a strategic problem than a customer relations issue. Plus, I think Facebook's new design was getting kind of cluttered and confusing, and these moves--if carried out correctly--may help people take more control of their Facebook experience.

Whether the changes also help Facebook contend with a surging Twitter is another matter that I think only the users of both services will end up deciding.

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Reader Comments

Tollie Williams

March 25, 2009 05:58 AM

I do agree that there is some truth in the idea that companies who are bold and not afraid to go against their customers from time to time do end up pioneering some good ideas, however here’s how this is different:

This isn’t Ford or Apple. Facebook is not selling a product; it’s dealing in the exchange of *our* contributions, *our* data. Facebook doesn’t just make money from us - Facebook is ABOUT us.

If Facebook wants to abandon what we’re here for and try and be some player in this new microblogging Twitter market, then it should, at very least, retain the important address book/ yearbook functionality in a meaningful way rather than attempt to Steve Jobs’ianly force its will on us by telling us “You don’t really want to connect with old friends… you want to discover new ones in new ways,” - because that would be an incorrect assumption.

John Jantsch - Duct Tape Marketing

March 25, 2009 08:45 AM

There's always such a fine line because, in some cases, users will complain about any change, even one they eventually come to enjoy. It's just human nature. I think FB made a strategic error by trying to mirror the twitter interface. twitter is popular, but not used as heavily by hardcore FB uses, the 20 somethings, as the rest of the population so they were quick to complain about the change.

I think you are right to a degree that FB should listen to its customers and adapt, but the trick will be to listen to the right customers, the one's the will pay the bills long-term when they make adjustments.

Doug MacMillan

March 25, 2009 11:10 AM

Worth while to also point out that Facebook is only tweaking its redesign, it's not shelving it. A vast majority of the criticism I have heard from my "friends" and other casual users has expressed discomfort with the larger design changes, which will remain in tact according to the company's memo. So to an extent, Facebook is "sticking to its guns," and there is bound to be more negative feedback because of that.

Sure, it's important top listen to customers. But in my opinion, any site that has 175 million+ members - or any organization that large, for that matter - can not adapt and evolve without ticking off a chunk of its population. I happen to like the new Facebook design, and think it's a smart move towards stemming off competition from Twitter.

Decision Tree Marketing

March 25, 2009 12:01 PM

One thing comes to mind: "Attempts to please all end up satisfying none". Facebook should stick to their guns.

Jenni Blaser

March 25, 2009 12:05 PM

Frankly, I think Facebook needs to go back to the way it was and not try to compete with Twitter. People are going to use Twitter whether Facebook can copy them or not. I know tons of people that use both because they offer different options.

rudya

March 25, 2009 12:28 PM

Hey Microsoft,

Are you watching this? Your "redesign" of the Office 2007 interface forced users to play "where did Microsoft hide this" and people who were proficient in earlier versions of Office spent hours looking for how to do things that were routine in the past.

In fact it was so bad, that the end users forced me to uninstall Office 2007 and reinstall the older version across every office.

Good idea gone too far

March 25, 2009 12:41 PM

Too bad they didn't put in options for the users to make it looks and feel more like twitter *if they wanted*, or make a tab for it and allow the users to choose their default tab, instead of making the whole thing twitteresque for everyone.

Inverse137

March 25, 2009 01:50 PM

My comment isn't really about Facebook per se. It is more about what "a small but vocal portion of followers" can do.

Change doesn't always come about because we agree as a majority that something needs to change. A significant portion of the time change will occur when "a small but vocal portion of followers" shouts often enough and loud enough to attract attention. It is the mentality that the louder you shout the more correct you are.

Somewhere along the line with the whole political correctness movement we lost sight of the option we had to just as frequently and loudly tell that "small but vocal" group to stfu.

Again, I'm not really thinking about FB, which is essentially irrelevant in the happiness and prosperity of peoples lives. I was thinking more about the extreme right nut jobs and how they rose to power over the past 8 years and how we, the majority, let them.

I don't really care about the layout of FB. It does what I need and seems to work well enough for what I pay for it every month. The point is; why is a small but vocal group allowed to have any power at all?

How was Bush/Cheney and company allowed to screw the country so bad and we didn't stand up and say STFU! We sat passively by as soldiers died and our wealth disappeared. We watched "Reality TV" as the number of people without medical care grew to 1 in 5. 20% of our population doesn't have medical coverage and we sat quietly by as "a small but vocal portion of followers" told us that nationalized health care was a bad idea. It didn?t matter that the U.S. is the only major country without nationalized health care. That small group shouted often and loudly and people followed.

The re-design of FB is a non-issue, but it can be used as a metaphor for a passive country.

What happened to this country?

Joe Remo

March 26, 2009 12:08 AM

Facebook should have made the User Interface customizable to the point where the "old look and feel" could be maintained. I think the new features are great and needed as options for certain users. And I would like to think that the Facebook UI team is not to blame but the managers like in any software company are to blame. When will we get better UI that's truly customizable and when will we get better managers.

XmasDVD

March 26, 2009 09:16 AM

I liked the old FB interface. My prob with the newsfeed is it fed me EVERYTHING! If I gave 40 people a flowr, it posted tat I gave a flower to a and to b and to c...so there were 40 posts about it. I want to control what it looks like to me. Make it look however you want but give me the ability to customize the look of how I want to run for me.

Jaimie Vernon

March 26, 2009 03:16 PM

Let's see....175 million people using Facebook for FREE. I'm thinking that Facebook will do anything they want.

GWoodard

March 27, 2009 01:15 PM

The only reason more FB users are not complaining is that the problem is not as noticeable when you have less than 30-40 friends. Above that, the noise becomes intolerable. If the so-called minority of users happen to be cool people with lots of friends then FB had better not diss us.

This is more than just resistance to change --anyone suggesting otherwise probably is expecting to profit off all the added noise (i.e. apps run amok). The apps need to be set up so that they do not behave like a virus. There are several ways of doing this and I expect FB will eventually arrive at one, but (knowing them) only after having tried everything else!

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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