Today, Facebook previewed changes it plans to make to their site next week. There are quite a few:
- A redesigned home page with live updates, filters and a universal publishing model (very much like FriendFeed’s).
- One minor change that’s part of the universal publishing box is changing the verbiage “What are you doing right now?” to “What’s on your mind?”.
- People will no longer be capped at 5,000 friends.
- A Twitter/FriendFeed like follow feature will be added to allow people to keep tabs on others asynchronously.
- Pages will converge with profiles, creating a more uniform experience whether person, brand, whatever.
These changes point to the convergence of the life-streaming model with the social network and to Facebook’s stated goal of being its own Internet within the ‘tubes. When Facebook first introduced the News Feed in 2006, it became the first social network to show a network’s activity in this way.
Since then, Twitter pioneered status (or micro-blogging) allowing the network to tell everyone explicitly what it’s doing, rather than using activity to infer that. Facebook added status shortly thereafter to capture the same activity.
FriendFeed applied the News Feed concept to the entire ‘tubes, but as Facebook has added the ability to share more objects, beyond simply activity contained within Facebook, the News Feed has become increasingly more life stream focused.
So, no big surprises in the home page redesign.
The follow feature, however, sounds like an area for user revolt. Facebook has a very different feel than Twitter or FriendFeed primarily because following (or subscribing) can be asynchronous. Facebook has always enforced that profiles must be real people, probably dating back to its roots as the anti-MySpace; they have frequently enforced this citing it as a violation of their terms.
Now, profiles and pages are merging, and people can follow each other. Sounds a shade like stalking. Because Twitter and others don’t have the rigorous profile requirements, you may not know who is really following you. You’ll know on Facebook though, and that will lead to a whole mess of issues.
This is going to be interesting. Expect a “revolt”, by which I mean a bunch of whining from people. After all, Facebook has a history of upsetting its users. Here’s a brief score card.
- September 2005: Adds high schools to its previously college-only crowd causing college kids to complain about allowing uncool, high schoolers into their Fortress of Solitude.
- May 2006: Adds work networks of selected companies, causing recently added high schoolers to join “old sk00l” college kids to whine that work people are uncool.
- September 2006: Adds News Feeds, Mini Feeds, irking hordes of users who are up in arms about flooding their pristine Facebook pages with mind-numbing details about their so-called friends.
- March 2007: Adds f8 platform for application development, which actually is met with user happiness for a change, until sheep throwing, vampire biting and spamming your friends to see your cool-points ranking get annoying.
- November 2007: Beacon social advertising program face-plants as users are aghast that Facebook would use their data to, um, make money or try to at least.
- September 2008: New UI launch is met with widespread hatred, even though apps have polluted the once clean aesthetic that made it the anti-MySpace.
- February 2009: Changes to its terms of service cause widespread outrage.
It’s actually pretty funny. When I started this list, my viewpoint was that Facebook would (again) run roughshod over its users, as it did in its infancy. However, looking back at the last 18 months, when the most growth has occurred outside the saturated demographics for social networking (talking to you Gen Y), Facebook has actually done a decent job listening to its user base.
Sure, they’ve made mistakes, but they’ve ultimately been responsible for them and have accommodated reasonable requests. Not a bad thing. Although, as a highly visible company (and pop culture punchline), this course of action seems logical.
Anyway. I don’t really think the changes are all that noteworthy, except maybe to early adopters who know Twitter (which is also inching toward mainstream as evidenced by its Daily Show cameo) and FriendFeed and think it matter who was doing what first.
The user revolt will be fun to observe. Most interesting will be how mainstream users feel about life-streaming and micro-blogging. The changes to Facebook’s UI will shape the future of the ‘tubes, like it or not.
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