Thursday, September 22, 2011

Facebook's Social Media Makeover - The Good and the Bad and the Not So Ugly

How often do you redecorate your living room? Once a decade? Maybe a little more? The reasons why you don't are self-evident - makeovers cost money, they are a pain, they take up time.

It's not hard to imagine, although we are not those people, that there are people who constantly tweak and move their furniture to give the room a new look, to keep it fresh and exciting.

Now imagine if those people were your parents. Every time you drop by, they seem to have moved stuff around. Sometimes you like the changes better than others, but it does make things hard to find - and it unsetttles you. This is the real problem of course - it's not that you don't like the new furniture, it's just that these are your parents and they aren't supposed to change!

Welcome to Facebook, the comfy chair of Social Media. Facebook is Social Media your Mom can use. You smile at it, you use it, but you don't respect it because, well, your Mom can use it. Even so, when Facebook switches the furniture around, it's unsettling.

Today we'll cover a very few points of some good and bad things Facebook did with their site switcheroo and the one or two things that are most up for debate as "that goddamn" feature.

The BAD

1) They changed our settings, again.

This is tantamount to your parents changing the lock, leaving the new key under the mat with a note that they've given a bunch of other people the keys, too, so if you're in the shower and hear noise, it's probably just one of those other people.  Wait, what?

Facebook has an appalling habit of "helping" you with your notifications and privacy settings. This time they turned all notifications OFF, except the ones that they turned ON.

How to Handle This: Don't wait for Facebook to change - make it a habit of visiting your Notifications, Privacy and App settings every three months. Clean out Apps you don't know, don't use, don't want. Make sure the Privacy is set the way you want it, that you can share with the people you want. Turn off or on notifications. Do this as a regular course of matter, so you remain in as much control of your account as possible.


2) They rolled all the changes out all at once.

Go back to the your parent's house metaphor. When they get a new chair, it's a nice change. If they had the entire house stripped and redecorated, it would be jarring. And, yes, the Facebook makeover was jarring.

How to Handle This: Don't Panic. Take a look at the popups and read them, so you know what you're looking at. Find a Social Media person on Facebook such as myself, (yes, I know I don't have an account name, all the sensible versions of my name were taken and I would just rather have a random character set that EricaFriedman1897. That sounds horribly AOL to me) or Christine Pilch who can talk you through fixing and changing settings.


The last and worst Bad thing is an ongoing problem with Facebook.

3) They made changes to our accounts without our permission.


Facebook does this continually and for me, it's the single biggest problem with Facebook security and privacy. I did not want to make Lists, so they made them for me! Um, no, see, I did not want to make any Lists. (See Below for more Lists comments.)

How to Handle This: Tell Facebook. We all must make it clear that, while we understand change is inevitable, we would very much prefer to be asked if we want a new feature, rather than having it thrust upon us. Some parents never change their living rooms, ever. And that's really all right. Our Mom's Facebook and ours don't have to look the same.


The Good

Now for the one really Good thing they did.

1) The biggest and best new thing they did was force Business Pages to let people post on their Wall, even if they have not "Liked" the page. There truly was nothing more galling than having to "like" a page before telling them they suck.


The (Not-So) Ugly

This leaves us with some of the new features, which are liked and disliked in equal measure.

Lists

Lists are an attempt to be more like Google+. This is misguided thinking. Facebook's market is you and your Mom. Not immersed Social Media users who are going to have a number of profiles on sites around the Internet. For most Facebook users, sharing with friends and family is one and the same.

I also call into question the premise that Segmentation = Privacy. Keeping your Friends in separate rooms is not the same thing as Privacy.

Worse, they did a terrible job of it. (^_^); My Family List had my wife's niece on it, but not my wife. Or any of my immediate family.

How to Handle This: Luckily Lists are easily removable. Scroll to the left of the List name until you see the pencil icon. Click "Hide." (I find, however, that my Lists have reappeared this AM, despite removing them yesterday. That could be very annoying.) Once Lists were removed, I found my Feed returning to a format I was more comfortable with.


The Update Ticker

I like this, although this wins as the number one "Turn this damn thing off!" that I see in comments. In the right sidebar, the top now is a ticker of comments by friends or on friends' posts.

How to Handle This: Lifehacker has posted an article on how to kill the Update ticker.

Scrolling Top Toolbar

A colleague of mine and long-time friend, Bonnie Wasilewski, pointed out the neat new feature of the top Toolbar scrolling down the page with you. Now you don't have to scroll back to the top to see notifications or get back to your home. I hadn't even noticed this, until she pointed it out, but dang! it's useful!

How to Handle This: Use it. No matter where you are on the site, you'll see what's going on in your world, without having to jump up and down the page.


Subscribe Button

For those of us with public lives, this is a welcome feature. Now people can read our posts, without us having to "Friend" them.

You can read status updates, see links and feel part of the life of your favorite celebrities and thinkiner, without having the right to communicate with them. Think of Subscribe like reading a newspaper in your home used to be. You get to read, but there's no real way to comment in real-time.

How to Handle This: Each post you make can be marked Friends, Public or Custom. You default to Friends, but if you don't mind your Subscribers reading something, mark it Public.


Conclusion 

The biggest problem in all these changes is Facebook's misunderstanding of their audience. In their desperate attempt to stay relevant and cutting edge, they are losing people from both edges of their usage curve.

People who wanted Google+-like features are already on Google+. I see many comments to the effect that people are "done" with Facebook and can be found exclusively at G+ now. (This is an issue I want to write about at length later, because in Social Media, you can't take your ball and go home.)

On the other end of the curve, are Mom and Pop users who really only wanted to see their kids and grandkids and share some pictures. The new changes will alienate and confuse these people, and over-complicate the site needlessly for them.

In the end, when the kerfuffle has settled, and everyone has gotten used to the Good, Bad and Ugly of the new format, Facebook will change it all around again. (Update: Facebook has already announced more changes to come, starting off with Facebook Timelines. Stay tuned!)

This is what happens when Facebook changes its layout - The Oatmeal
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