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Facebook's New Design: Windows Into Our Future
Posted on September 21st 2011
Facebook's new page design will engineer a modified Facebook user experience. While these changes may seem random to many novice users, Facebook is in fact subtly re-engineering the way we interact with their platform.
That said, few of these changes seem final or complete. I have a good feeling that these are first steps towards a greatly evolved Facebook experience, over time. Consider the recent changes below:
- Asymmetrical Social Experiences - Whereas most Twitter users were public and anyone could "follow" anyone else, Facebook was built on a mutually agreed upon (aka symmetrical) relationship (what normal people call friending). This fundamental component in many ways defined the way the platform and user interaction experience. "Subscribing" to public figures changes this dynamic and mixes social with less-social content.
To me, it feels almost out of place to see Subscription content in the main content area. When I Like or Fan a brand page, brands generally speak in a common social langage. Much of the subscription content I've seen is an odd mix of Twitter style updates, or very personal messages (such as pictures with friends) that aren't relevant to me as a subcriber because I don't relate to that aspect of their lives. I'm not sure if this is a product of my inexperience with the new platform, celebrity unfamiliarity with this new dynamic, or a Facebook design flaw.
- Non-Linear Social Content - whereas Google Plus puts the most recently content interacted with content on top, Facebook and Twitter generally followed a historically linear navigation scheme. Top Stories is a natural evolution of the stream/wall (this was already on brand pages), though it does not quite feel "in line" with my previous Facebook experiences.
- Dynamic Activity Bar - the right hand navigation area is a mixed blessing. I don't really care about what most of my friends do. Facebook knows this, and this is why they gave us Top Stories. Putting all of this activity into the right hand sidebar doesn't do much to enhance my Facebook experience.
- New Friends Bar - the lower right hand bar displays which of your friends are available for chat. Whereas in the past this had been a fixed, seemingly random list of my friends, the new bar allows me to scroll through the list to see which of my friends are online. This is convenient and well thought out.
- Right Hand Bar Overall - The right hand bar really bugs for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is not consistent with Facebook's design scheme. There have been and otherwise continue to be core design elements to all Facebook pages, such as the title bar. All content sits in it's own neatly defined area within this overall design scheme. The right hand bar breaks these basic design elements and looks like a legacy element thrown into a new design scheme (or more likely, an element from a new design scheme plopped on top of an old one). The bar looks and feels like an overlay, one I would like to be able to minimize.
My second gripe with the right hand bar is the dual scrolling functionality. I can now scroll vertically in three different areas - in the status bar (by mousing over and clicking), in the friend bar (by mousing over the clicking) and in my browser (by moving my mouse a smidge and clicking). This is simply poor design.
- Smart Lists - What took so long? Facebook had the data, I wish this would have been available sooner. It's a great feature. I want to see it get better. It is not easy enough to merge smart lists with my legacy lists and create the lists that matter most to me. For example, in my legacy lists I had some people from my old job in a "friends" list and some people in a "restricted" list based on how close I was to them. Facebook now has them sorted into Brooklyn and Digitas. Just because someone that I worked with lives in Brooklyn and/or works at Digitas does not in anyway define the closeness of our relationship.
With these changes, Facebook is moving in a number of interesting directions. That said, this latest update feels like the start of a number of great concepts without the optimal realization of these great ideas. I'm sure this will get iteratively better over the coming months.
- Facebook is recognizing that there are different roles and relationships formed around public versus private conversations.
- Facebook is recognizing that celebrity, punditry, and brand marketing do not all fit in the same environment.
- Facebook is recognizing that social noise is both entertaining and overwhelming. They are giving us two ways to navigate this dichotomy.
- Facebook is giving us better control over our friend lists - recognizing that not all friends are created equal.
- Facebook is hinting at a new more "industrial" design scheme that may prove more useful or relevant to a new overall Facebook experience.
An expansion on the industrial design theme shown in the right hand nav bar will look great in Windows Phone 7 or Windows 8. Whether by luck or by design, this will serve as a test of what will one day become Metro-ready Tiles. Facebook has already unbundled their services on iOS. This is going to be the next step in distributing the Facebook experience to Windows and possibly other computing platforms.