26 October 2009

What can Facebook learn from FriendFeed?

Facebook has a habit of radically changing it’s front page and attracting user discontent in the process. The latest update was no different: although it has received mostly positive reviews from bloggers, the users on the other hand are rejecting the changes and want the previous interface back, as you can see in the comments to the original announcement.

I tend to agree with the latter this time: having both a “news feed” and a “live feed” doesn’t help me find the most interesting updates, I just find myself switching back and forth between them with the distinct feeling I am missing something. The news feed is a good idea in theory, but the ranking it uses is counterintuitive. I prefer the live feed for now, but it was also “revamped” to offer more updates about new ‘friendships’, so the noise level increased. Both of them are different from the old home page and so Facebook suddenly became unfamiliar (again!) over night. At least the site stores the last used option, so, if you prefer one of them, the choice will stick the next time you log in. Facebook news feed

Facebook suggestions With the extra space left over from the removal of “Highlights”, the “Suggestions” were expanded. Now, beside the recommendations for new friends, Facebook invites you to “reconnect” with people you are already connected to. I find it interesting that these suggestions are mostly users that haven’t interacted with the site for some time. The idea behind this is probably that, if you write on their wall they will receive a mail notification and log in to Facebook to reply. And this way the site gets more views and potentially more ad revenue… A pretty cheap tactic if you ask me.

Facebook claims the new changes had nothing to do with their acquisition of FriendFeed. Even so, there are other features that should be adopted by Facebook to make their network more pleasant to use:

  • Expand links and media from applications. Right now, posting a link directly to your status, even a shortened one, generates a nice preview with pictures and excerpts from the original page. On the other hand, links coming from third-party applications (like the Twitter app) remain unchanged. Expanding these links would encourage the users to interact with them. Besides FriendFeed, Brizzly is also a good example for my point!
  • Allow users to edit the status messages and comments after posting them. Forcing us delete a comment just to correct a mistake is not user-friendly at all! Not only FriendFeed, but also Google Reader allows this already. The ability to reply to other comments would also come in very handy – think Google Wave!
  • Improve the subject of the notification e-mails: the current format is very annoying, as notifications about the same status/link cannot be grouped together and can easily get scattered in the inbox between all the other messages. Compare that to FriendFeed’s notifications: they have the same subject per status, so they are threaded together in Gmail or can be easily sorted in other clients, like a true conversation.

With 300+ Million users, Facebook will always have a thought time pleasing it’s diverse audience. Pushing big updates seems to be their main strategy, according to a video I discovered on Facebook (where else?). Maybe they should focus more on small improvements and make the changes more gradual and more frequent, to prevent the users from feeling overwhelmed and ignored.

Mike Schroepfer (Facebook), "High Order Bit: The Infrastructure of Facebook"

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