Hooray!! It’s time for everyone’s favorite internet game show: Change My Facebook Layout! Yes folks, the powers that be (Mark Zuckerberg and Co.) have yet again implemented a series of changes to Facebook, annoying many and delighting few but mostly confusing all of us. Some of these changes are, as always, controversial and perhaps unnecessary, but there is a lot of stuff on the horizon for Facebook that looks like it could actually improve the site’s functionality a lot. So first, lets look at the changes are ready implemented.
The biggest thing Facebook has done is bring back networks, a feature the company said was defunct years ago. This time, they’re back with a twist as they act a lot more like Circles from Google+, allowing you to categorize your friends into groups that act as filters for your posts. It’s a good feature when you want to localize posts to a specific group. However, in practice it can be clumsy because Facebook auto builds a lot of these groups. For my summer job as a counselor, my camp goes by several names and so now I have three groups for the same network of friends and contacts. It’s unnecessary and Facebook won’t let me merge them together. Also, adding people to your groups has to be confirmed by the other person if it involves work or school. Google’s Circles are all at your discretion, which I like better. Even further, some of these groups come with caveats. “Close friends” according to Facebook means “People you are obsessed with” and anyone in that group generates a notification for any activity. That’s not what I was asking for, I just wanted to categorize my best friends together.
Facebook is also taking on Twitter with this last rash of changes. Subscriptions are the new rage in passive-aggressive interactions with people. If there is someone you want to get information on but don’t actually want to interact with, you can now subscribe to them. I guess Facebook sees this as a way to get celebrities and organizations to get back on Facebook so people can follow them, but that’s what Pages were for. Subscribing seems kind of creepy to me, since if I want to follow my friends, why not just friend them? It’s redundant.
Speaking of redundant, let’s talk about the news feed. It’s wonderfully confusing now. At the top you now see the Top Stories since your last visit. How Facebook decides what the Top Stories are I don’t know, but I can tell you their choices are not mine. If Top Stories integrated with my Closest Friends group, then I’d be more happy. Still, you can edit the Top Stories by telling Facebook what you’d like and not like to be listed there. So it gets smarter over time. Recent posts are located under Top Stories, but there is a quick link at the top of the page. I’d rather have recent stories be a tab or something, just to make things more concise. Tagging a long with all of this is a running ticker of real-time updates on the right side. Honestly, I’d just prefer real-time updates in the primary feed, but the ticker is fine really and has a good preview engine, allowing you to float your mouse over a story to generate an in-depth look at what your friends are up to. These updates to the news feed are, like all Facebook updates, varied in their reception. But they are pretty superfluous compared to the big updates down the pipeline….
At Facebook’s f8 conference last week, the company debuted Timeline, a total reinvention of our profiles. I’ve taken the liberty of getting access to the developer beta in order to test out the new profile design. The verdict: I like it. Finally Facebook’s design seems fresh and clean. The top of the page has your opening “cover” of sorts. You can select a picture to be on this first section, showing you in your natural environment with friends. With this cover page comes thumb nails for your friends, pages, photos, likes, and locations, plus your basic information and access to your “about” section with more info. Below this is the Timeline proper. It’s split into two columns divided by the timeline which is in chronological order. Posts appear on either side in a staggered order, either posts by you or posts from your friends. It’s essentially a more well designed wall. Updating your status now has options for “Life events” like getting a job or becoming engaged. This runs with the new motif of having the Timeline tell your life story. The Timeline gets more specific the more recent you, but it supports going all the way back to your very first posts on Facebook and gives you digests of each year of your Facebook life. It’s kind of creepy to see that Facebook has been archiving every activity you’ve done since the beginning, but the site gives you a week to comb through your history and clean out anything incriminating…. how considerate. Also on the creepy side is that you can really alter history. Clicking on the timeline at any point allows you to insert a post at that date, meaning you can change how things went down in your digital life.
The Timeline is launching in the coming weeks. While it’s an adjustment, my penchant for clean UI design makes me enjoy this update a lot. It also treats us more as humans with a story to tell through our digital lives. Maybe people will be more careful online now that Facebook is our digital narrative.
Read about Timeline here