1. Facebook Evolution

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    Since the launch of the new Facebook home page on the 11th, I’ve been reading and seeing a lot of strongly opinionated reviews of the changes and have quietly played around with the interface myself to get a feel for the change.

    Changes to the Home Page

    The biggest change to Facebook has been the re-alignment of the home page. Facebook did a good job outlining the changes to the home page through video presentations and a home page preview that allowed people to see a visual mockup of the home page and it’s features.

    I use the term re-alignment because from a design standpoint, the revisions are more subtle. The grid hasn’t been revised all too much and really, it’s simply a new way of organizing the same information in the page in a better (depending on your thoughts on the home page) way of bringing content into the viewer’s browser.

    New Features

    The new home page came with 3 new features: Filters, Streams, & Publisher.

    • Filters – The filters are “sorting” options that allow you to visually sort and manage the data in your Facebook Stream. Unfortunately, these filters are currently lacking, though, it does allow you to quickly sort through the activity.
    • Streams – “The Stream” is aptly named, in this area, all activity from your friends, fan pages, groups and apps are displayed. It’s very reminiscent of twitter in that most of the activity is condensed content all displayed in a way that entices you to click for more information.
    • Publisher – This is a great addition that has saved me much time. It gives users the ability to publish photos, video, links, etc right from their home page instead of going to the “box” in their profile. For many active Facebook users this is a great “short-cut” that was greatly appreciated.

    Why Change Was Necessary

    As a web developer I am quite aware of the problems that a redesign or re-alignment can have to a user-base. People come to depend on a interface when they interact with it from day-to-day and they want to be able to just log-on, do what they want to do and not have to relearn the process.

    Unfortunately, on the web there are always new technologies and techniques being developed to help streamline information, technology and design. In order to implement these new features and re-alignment is sometimes required.

    Other Reasons : Money & Competition – Social media and web 2.0/3.0 websites are extremely competitive for people’s attention.  In order to maintain an audience, web-companies like Facebook must constantly evolve their product to bring in new features and to implement new technology to compete with other players in the market.

    Companies like Twitter have been growing at a phenomenal pace over the last few months. Currently it is estimated that Twitter’s growth rate is +1,000%. In 2008, Facebook made a move to acquire Twitter and the idea was met with general approval from web-heads. It seemed like a logical fit. In November(ish) of 2008 the talks broke down and the parties went their separate way.

    Facebook could not ignore the success and even more importantly, the potential of Twitter and through 2008 and early 2009, they have begun developing Facebook to have the Twitter style features. Most everyone who uses Facebook now has been able to recognize the similarities.

    As you can see, Facebook most likely hasn’t simply redesigned the home-page so that they could get a few more ads into the page, or so that they could pretty up the design. The business & competitive edge of social media plays a big roll in what technologies are integrated into the system.

    Home Page Problems

    There is a very active community that isn’t too pleased with the new home-page. Some of the complaints are legitimate, others (I feel) are only complaining because they are slow adapters who don’t like the changes.

    That being said, I’ve got a few complaints about the home-page:

    • Lack of Control – My number one complaint about the new home-page is that you have limited control over what comes up in the Stream. Every time one of the people in my friend’s list takes a super-interesting quizz about their personality, or favorite drink, the results are shoved into Stream. 
    • Timeline Irregularities – In an effort to keep your stream “fresh” it appears that the algorithm that controls this flow of information is tweaked. In twitter, information is displayed in a time-line based order. Information comes up as it happens. Often times, with Facebook, I’ll see “fresh” things pop up that occurred much earlier than other updates that occurred more recently. I believe this is Facebook’s attempt at keeping people coming back to the site for new information and maybe most people don’t even notice it… kudos to Facebook if they can hoodwink most people then…

    What Did They Get Right?

    Despite my complaints above, Facebook has managed to get this new home page right. Sure, some tweaks need to be made (give us control of the stream), but really, the changes are brilliant.

    Now, links and shared information is commented on and noticed by more and more people the instant they load up the information. Posts and photos that would have easily been missed before, show up quickly in the thread and prompt people to comment and interact with the media… all with less clicks.

    I’d hazard to say that people are spending more time on the home page than most of the other pages in the site simply because of this increase ability for interaction.

    Many people claim that Facebook is simply ripping off Twitter, but I’d argue that they’ve perfected the core idea of Twitter and made it unique to Facebook. Instead of being limited to 140 characters and pesky short URLS, Facebook has allowed it’s user’s to post rich media and interactive elements into their Stream, something that Twitter isn’t designed to do.

    Personally, I still view the two as completely separate. I do not think they should be compared as equals. Twitter users value succinct posts that a very focused and easily digested by people who value fast paced information sharing. Facebook is more laid back, personable and want you to spend more time interacting with media and features of the site.

    At this point, I think it would be a mistake for Facebook and Twitter to merge. Though the new feature is a compliment to Facebook’s usability, if they go too far to the hyper-active Twittblogger style of displaying information, they may make the site too complicated and difficult for people to use.

    Moving Forward

    Since I began writing this post, Facebook has started devloping privacy controls that will allow people greater control over their profile. Hopefully these new features will also include control over the information in the user’s stream.

    As a very active Facebook user, I am actually excited to see changes to the Facebook platform. Social media platforms like Facebook need these changes to drive innovation in the market and push new technologies on the web.

    Now give me control over my Stream!

    PS: If you want to join me on facebook or twitter, please feel free to do so!