Whenever Facebook launches a major re-design, there is a user outcry. Partly that's because Facebook is known for its clumsy and confusing design, partly it's because people are resistant to change. This time round though, the main issue is that Facebook is trying to be something it is not: a newspaper.
The change causing all the fuss is to the News Feed, which makes up the primary content on your Facebook homepage. Instead of the most recent content from your social network displaying on your homepage, now you see "top stories" as determined by Facebook's software. In announcing the change, Facebook claimed that "News Feed will act more like your own personal newspaper." The problem is, Facebook is a social network - not a news network.
This is nicely illustrated by my own most recent Facebook status update. I accidentally locked myself out of my house, so here is what I posted:
That's not news - and I wouldn't want it to be a "top story" in any of my friends' Facebook homepages. It's simply a personal comment about something that happened to me today. Which is what Facebook is mostly used for: personal and social updates.
Facebook claims that with the re-designed News Feed, "you won't have to worry about missing important stuff" and that "the most interesting stories" will be featured at the top of your homepage. But a social network shouldn't be concerned with what it deems to be important or most interesting. It's main purpose is to keep me connected to my network of friends.
This isn't the only recent new feature that points to Facebook's desire to emulate a news network. Last week Facebook launched a new "Subscribe" button, which will allow you to subscribe to the updates of someone you're not friends with. This was marketed as being a way to follow celebrities and media people. The Subscribe button does have some social benefits though, in that you can customize how much of your friends content you want to see on your homepage.
Don't get me wrong, I applaud many of the changes that Facebook has recently made and is about to make. The improved Friends Lists are a promising, if somewhat clunkily implemented, feature. That was inspired by Google Plus and its circles (which are lists of friends). And the media sharing features that Facebook is set to release later this week - buttons for Read, Watch and Listen - will give people more exciting content to share...more exciting than for example a status about locking oneself out of one's house.
Lists for friends, media sharing, filtering information that you see on your homepage through the Subscribe button. All of those are features that enhance Facebook's core purpose: to be a social network. And just as importantly, all of those features are directly controlled by the user. Not by Facebook's software.
Let us know what you think about Facebook's newspaper design. Is it unnecessary and distracting to you, or do you find it useful?