Sunday, December 5, 2010

Facebook's New Profile

Facebook, as I'm sure many of you have heard, is in the process of rolling out it's new profile design. Before I talk about some of the things I feel they got wrong - some of which are incredibly obvious, unfortunately - I'll give credit where credit is due and discuss what I like about it. One thing I will definitely credit them for is not making it radical a departure from the old design. It's an adjustment, but not a huge one, which should greatly lessen the amount shell shock (and whining) when the rest of the 500 million are eventually force-fed the change.

Another thing I like is the "Your Friendship" section they've added in the upper right. What it looks like greatly depends on the two people in question, but here's one of the better examples I've found with one of my friends:

This looks much like one might expect. If you did a Venn diagram with one circle being the data that Facebook has about me and the other the data Facebook has about my friend, what you're seeing is a formatted representation of (some of) the overlap. It's really about time Facebook added this, as there have been a plethora of 3rd party applications all attempting to present this information to people with varying degrees of terribleness. (Perhaps some aren't that bad, but none of the ones I've seen ended up being terribly compelling.) I especially like that Facebook tries to include some timely data here, like the next event you can expect to see each other at. All of it is potential conversation fodder, which I kind of like, and will no doubt be a useful way for all those as-yet-silent profile stalkers to get their foot in the door [/tongue-firmly-in-cheek].

My only complaint about that particular piece is that their choice of formatting is a little odd for a person of Western culture (aka: me and likely all of you reading this). Since we read left-to-right, top-to-bottom, I think that the descriptions of what those pictures are would be better placed above them instead of below them. That way the most-probable interaction goes more like: "Photos of me and my friend... and there they are," instead of "What are these photos of? Oh, me and my friend." It's not a big deal as long as most people figure it out as quickly as I did, but I still feel it's worth a mention.

The new profile header, however, needs quite a bit of work. Here's mine:
Let's start with the demographic info. It used to be thrown in the left-hand margin and is now front-and-center:
Is this a good placement? I don't know. I can think of arguments both for and against, but I don't personally mind it. What I do know is that this is the laziest possible way to format that information and, as a result, is totally self defeating. I mean, I have to assume moving it from halfway down the left-hand margin to front-and-center on the profile page is a deliberate attempt to make the information more visible on the page. In which case, presenting it as a Block-O-Text really defeats the point. 2 steps forward, 2 steps back. Don't believe me? Check out how much easier that info is to read if I format it like this (I removed the formatting options to show you what it'd look like to anyone but me):
The other huge problem is the seemingly-random, computer-selected group of photos immediately beneath the demographics. Seriously, Facebook, how often have you had egg on your face over accidentally showing the wrong photo at the wrong time? If you cut the user out of this selection process and just decide for them, you're bound to piss someone off - and with 500 million users, you're bound to piss off the equivalent of a small country. Case in point, the 2nd photo from the right is a photo of me and an ex-girlfriend.
Awk... ward.
Luckily for Facebook, I'm purposely exaggerating the issue to illustrate a point - she and I are still really good friends and I actually don't mind that picture showing up there at all - but take any random person and surprise them with a front-and-center photo of them and any random ex and they are very likely to be very unhappy. Facebook even has all the information they need to specifically avoid choosing this picture, they apparently just didn't think of it.

Attention Facebook: photos are very personal; a user should be allowed to be as involved in this process as they'd like and you should default to making this process completely inclusive. It's really not that hard to do. Simply present a screen full of photos and let them pick the 5 they want - allowing them to page through multiple screens if they wish - and include options to defer the activity for later or to let you do it for them. This is the most delicate and respectful way to do this and it took me about 5 seconds to come up with.

Photos were your bread-and-butter for a long time - your raison d'etre - and are still a big part of your user experience. It's just plain sad that you still don't know how to handle this stuff. For instance, some people are extremely sensitive about photos and might prefer to have as few photos as possible on their main page, but it's impossible for those users to show no photos at all (at least without jumping through a lot of hoops and making said users extremely hateful in the process). You can remove a photo if you don't want it there, but you still don't get any say in the photo Facebook chooses to replace it.

And so, with its latest update, Facebook continues to be like the proverbial hamster in the wheel: always moving forward, but never really getting anywhere.


Kelli said...

Awesome write-up, buddy. I guess I shouldn't seem so surprised, considering that this is, after all, what you *do*.

Marion said...

I resent being represented as FAIL! That is the last time I invite you out to go to nerd-related activities! ;p

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