Why The New Facebook Doesn’t Suck. Part 1 of 2

March 21, 2009

A few weeks ago, when Facebook announced it was going to once again be changing the user home page, I had no choice but to hunker down and prepare myself for the onslaught of complaints that would inevitably fill my newsfeed.

Only months before, Facebook launched their first new homepage. It was drastically different from the home page that users had grown accustomed to. After starting off as a site where friends could stay connected, with simple functions like an address book, and a “wall” that functioned somewhat like a dry-erase board, Facebook had slowly been evolving into something else. The newsfeed, a sort of play-by-play of what a user is up to, was our first glimpse of the driving philosophy behind the direction in which Facebook was going: from a social network centered around staying connected, into a robust platform for users to not only stay connected but to willingly (and not so willingly) share information about themselves.

When the newsfeed was added, many people were understandably concerned about privacy issues. As expected, some folks didn’t like the idea and they either stopped using Facebook altogether, or complained about it for a bit but eventually got over it. Others simply adjusted the way they used Facebook to accommodate the changes.

At the time, I was working at a social-networking site, so it was absolutely necessary that I stay on top of what was going on with similar sites. As much as I bitched about the newsfeed and the new profile, my job essentially made it impossible to do the obvious thing and stop using Facebook. Over time, I inexplicably found myself not only using Facebook more, but actually, feeling somewhat enthusiastic about what the company was doing. In my eyes, they had successfully overthrown Myspace as the social networking site of choice for the average person. Part of what made Facebook special was the inclusion of the newsfeed, and to a lesser extent (thank God!), the inclusion of apps.

That being said, when Facebook launched the previous iteration of the homepage, I was not happy. I didn’t quite understand the Facebook ethos, so I viewed the changes from a primarily aesthetic standpoint. I had a gut reaction to the fact that Facebook no longer looked the way I had grown used to. I also didn’t like the fact that I now had to learn a considerably different user interface (UI). Alas, I once again couldn’t stop using it. This time, however, for a different reason; I was still working at a social network, but now I couldn’t stop using it because it had become one of the primary ways in which I stayed in touch with family and friends.

The more I used the new home page, I realized the new UI was quite good. Suddenly, I found myself using Facebook in different and more meaningful ways. It was far from perfect, but I was forced to admit that it was an improvement on the old Facebook. For instance, I found myself actually using the status update, something that up until then I had chosen to ignore. I also found myself uploading pictures and even using Facebook to share my recent blog posts with people who were actually interested in reading.

Where I think the previous homepage failed was the seemingly arbitrary way in which content was streamed. For some reason, the feed always seemed to focus on the wrong people. Maybe I just didn’t know how to adjust the settings properly, but it seemed to me that the people I actually cared to follow weren’t ever making it into my newsfeed. Instead, I had a million things from folks I hadn’t spoken to in years.

Out of nowhere, Alf was all up in my newsfeed. I knew I shouldn’t have added him after our falling out.

The newly launched Facebook homepage not only addresses that by making the newsfeed update in realtime, but also makes it easier to filter out the folks I may not be so interested in following. This feature alone won me over to the new homepage, but there are a few other things that I think are worth mentioning. The previous homepage’s newsfeed seemed completely random in the type of content it featured. Sometimes a friend would upload a video and I’d have no idea because, well, it never quite made it into my feed. The tabbed homepage addressed the issue but it wasn’t something I’d even discovered until recently. Not only that, but from a UI perspective, the tabs just weren’t clear enough. The new homepage basically takes the tabs idea, but makes it even clearer by moving it to the left and changing the nomenclature. They’re now referred to as filters. Suddenly, a user isn’t just sifting through content, but actively filtering content by who is posting it, as well as the type of content being posted. It’s a much more intuitive UI.

Many complain the new homepage is too much like twitter

The big issue most folks have with the new homepage is the fact that it’s somewhat similar to twitter. While I can’t say I’m all that familiar with twitter and the concept of micro-blogging, or “oversharing”, as my good friend Corey would say, I know that there are folks who love it and are more than happy to share what’s going on in their lives in a few short sentences. When Facebook first added the status updates, I noticed a lot of folks were updating it several times a day, in a way that is basically what twitter is. The new Facebook homepage, and the addition of this new realtime newsfeed, allows users who choose to share more do so in a way that actually reaches other users. Some folks go a little overboard with the sharing, which is why the new “hide” filter is, again, one of the best features of the new homepage. In one click, a user can effectively stop people from pooping all over their newsfeed.

read part 2 of this article