After the emergence of Google Plus this year, many people were wondering if Facebook had finally met its match. Maybe that’s so, but Facebook has upped the ante over the past couple of weeks. It has significantly scaled up the amount of information it tracks about you – and many millions of other people. The once humble status update field has been expanded to include 5 types of “life events.” You now automatically share data about what you’re reading or listening to. There are more ways to follow and filter people. Those are just a few of the changes.
The big Facebook re-design has caused a predictable user backlash and media frenzy. To help you get a handle on what has changed, in this post we’ll summarize the new Facebook and explore the major implications.
Here’s a quick summary of what’s changed:
- A new Subscribe button, allowing you to follow people you aren’t friends with, plus filter the amount of information you get from current friends.
- Improved friends lists – easier way to group people into lists, including via semi-automated “smart lists.”
- A News Ticker that streams a constant flow of user updates in a sidebar (on top of your chat bar).
- A newspaper-like relevancy filter for your Facebook homepage.
- Instant sharing of what you read, listen to and watch.
- A new Timeline profile (a colorful history of you and your “life events”).
What does all of this mean? We won’t fully know until all of the changes are rolled out on a mass scale. Some of the above isn’t yet available to all (the Timeline is in a developer preview until later this week) and some of it is restricted (e.g. the music sharing appears to be geo-restricted). But here are three things you ought to know now.
1. The Noise Just Exponentially Multiplied.
The News Ticker has already become a constantly streaming list of updates from your friends and people you subscribe to. However it’s about to get a lot busier, as more and more Facebook users have their reading, listening and watching activity automatically shared (more on that below).
What this means to you, as a Facebook user, is that you’ll need better ways to filter out the noise. Do you really want to get a song-by-song update as I listen to WHAM!’s Greatest Hits on a Friday afternoon? I didn’t think so.
This is the reason behind Facebook’s newspaper-like design on your Facebook homepage. It’s attempting to present just relevant updates from your friends and who you subscribe to. So far, this feature has probably gotten the most negative feedback from users – many of whom say it misses a lot of updates they’d actually like to see. So Facebook clearly has some work to do to improve the homepage relevancy.
2. Instant Sharing Means You Should Be Wary.
This new feature will send an instant update to your Facebook News Feed every time you click through to a news story of a Facebook media partner (Washington Post and The Guardian are two early examples, but many more media companies will follow). It will also update your News Feed every time you listen to a song on a partner app, such as Spotify, Rdio and MOG. The ‘watch’ partners include Hulu and Netflix. Update: a commenter pointed out that this is opt-in. Yes, you do have to allow the media app to automatically share on your behalf.
The implications for you, the user, are clear: watch out that you’re not accidentally sharing things you’d rather not. For example, maybe you don’t want your social network to know that you like reading stories about Glenn Beck. Or that you listen to WHAM!’s Greatest Hits every Friday.
3. Facebook Now Knows a Heck of a Lot More About YOU.
You probably don’t want more noise in Facebook or the risk of over-sharing. Tough cookies, because for Facebook all of that data is a gold mine. As Chris Saad noted, “the more information you have the more ability you have to find patterns and surface them in relevant places.”
Make no mistake, this is extremely valuable data to Facebook. They will be able to use it to sell highly targeted ads and maybe even sell anonymized data to corporations and governments. There are plenty of privacy measures in place to protect you, but as a user perhaps a more relevant question is: do I want a single corporation to know so much about me? Or, as John Battelle put it, do I want the “story of my life” under the control of Facebook?
Let us know your thoughts on Facebook’s big re-design – are you mostly excited or concerned by it?