After a history of major interface changes followed by user uproar, it looks like Facebook has learned the lesson and started to test and release smaller tweaks to the existing features. In the last couple of weeks alone there have been news about notifications in browser tabs, the new design for albums, as well as experimental features like unsubscribing from notifications after you liked or commented on a status or displaying the types of pages in the stream.
One update I experienced first-hand in my own account looks aimed at making the stream more relevant and more structured: if more than one friend shares a link, the stories will no longer be displayed separately in chronological (or ‘most popular’) order, but instead they will be grouped together like a single update. I first discovered it at the end of July and others blogged about it as well. Comments and likes are displayed together with each item, under the link, which takes the center stage. Unfortunately interacting with one story will not be visible on the other; the comments and likes don’t ‘sync’, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
The wall posts received a similar face lift, as I noticed a few day ago, when a friend started receiving birthday wishes. Previously, they would come separate, just like any other status update; now they are bundled and clearly identified as birthday wishes. The interface is very similar to the change for links and makes it easier for users to get more context about this type of updates. It’s available in both the ‘Top News’ feed and in ‘Most Recent’, the view I use by default.
We will probably see more small tweaks like this to other types of content from the social network. I think games would be the most likely candidate next: instead of seeing dozens of updates about friend’s game activity, a cumulated daily update would largely reduce noise and maybe keep people from hiding the games and other apps from their streams.
It’s interesting that Facebook, for a long time seen as copying features from Twitter, is now innovating on the stream. I rarely seen initiatives to reduce noise and increase relevance in the bigger players, with the exception of Google Reader’s feature that groups links shared from several people you follow. Twitter is sticking to the chronological model, relying on third-party clients to offer filters and relevancy, while Buzz only groups updates from the same person coming in too frequently, hiding all but one of them. Personally, I think this Facebook initiative is driven by the perceived competitive pressure from the rumored Google Me; they are trying to be one step ahead even before the product is launched. Even if Google Me ultimately misses it’s goal, hopefully the positive effect of competition will be felt in a better – and, I dare not hope, more open – Facebook.