Once upon a time there was a website called MySpace. Myspace was popular, and got invited to all the parties. You never knew what MySpace would show up wearing, but it was usually something crazy and flash, designed to make it stand out. MySpace also had a habit of getting drunk and taking over the music, randomly switching from genre to genre, and from today’s hits to that one song that sounds like someone took a chainsaw to a sick horse. Sure, MySpace was fun to have around, but after the party the whole place seemed to have been redecorated. Why is the paint on the back wall flashing again?
The bottom line is, MySpace became so annoying that its users started to hate it, and Facebook came along to save the day. MySpace is still out there, and nobody cares.
Facebook learned a lot from the MySpace failure. They locked down the design to keep the feel of the site uniform from space to space. They offered more features, while paying close attention to MySpace’s annoyances for what to avoid. It was easy. MySpace was on top, and Facebook positioned itself as the “better” version. It was true. Facebook was the best full-featured social media service. This is no longer true.
Sure, Facebook is the biggest. When you’re the biggest, you can do what you want. This, at its root, is what’s wrong with Facebook. With the largest user-base, no real competition, and plenty of money to invest, Facebook can move quickly to implement new features and strategies. Ideas can be designs, which can become tests, which can then become finished code in a short timeframe, and with that ability the features backlog starts to grow.
This is how TimeLine comes into being. Someone decided that the individual users’ pages on Facebook needed improvement. Ideas were tossed around. How do you put more content on the visible page, yet keep a good flow? Someone had the idea of drawing a timeline, and then pointing each post at its spot on the timeline. Users will still have a visual cue, but they can go left and right to read all the content. It’s BRILLIANT!
The problem is, it is not brilliant. Timeline forces a bad workflow on the reader. It clutters the design of the page. It makes it harder to find information you need, when you’re visiting someone else’s page. What’s worse, it makes it MUCH harder to follow the flow of a person’s output through time, which is exactly the problem Timeline is supposed to solve.
It’s not just Timeline, though. The main page sort defaults to an “important people first” methodology, which always puts my Mother-In-Law in my first-read position. There’s a little “sort” link attached to the “write something” box, which apparently doesn’t affect the “write something” box at all but sorts the content below it either in “important people first” or “in order by time) which is the proper way. Of course, it defaults to the wrong way.
It’s easy enough to change the sort, once you’ve discovered it Be careful, though. There’s a little “down arrow” beside the sort that looks like a sort button. It’s lined up just right at the top of the column. That’s actually a post-specific options menu. Most designers put something like this along with the other actions for that object, but Facebook’s UI people decided that intuitive just wasn’t good enough this time.
Aside from changing it every time you visit the site (it is at least sticky within that session, or until I close my browser) there are two options you have. One is to train it, and the other is to go into your settings and change the default sort. Try as I might, I couldn’t find an option to set the default sort. It’s a stupid feature to force on your users, but if that’s the game they want to play I’ll just start training the algorithm.
I spent weeks telling Facebook that my Mother-In-Law wasn’t important enough to be at the top of my feed. Nothing personal against my Mother-In-Law, but there are really only three people I care to see at the top. My wife, my son, and my Mother are the only three people I care to see out of series.
That sweet lady who worked a few seats from me at an old job? Not that important. The high-school friends that I haven’t seen in years? They don’t go to the top. My best friends don’t go to the top. Every time I saw the wrong person sorted to the top, I’d use the little menu to try to tell Facebook that they aren’t THAT important. Facebook isn’t a very good learner, though. It never worked.
Let me repeat that one more time.
FACEBOOK IS NOT A VERY GOOD LEARNER.
Facebook keeps making features that de-hance the user experience of the site. The site has grown more cluttered, more ugly, and more confusing as time has passed. Controversial features are revealed, reviled, avoided, accidentally turned on, complained about, and finally forced on the users that have worked so hard to keep it at bay. They take weeks, or months to go through the process of taking a feature from “announced” to “forced on the users.” Don’t you worry, though, Facebook friends, that feature will be forced on you one day.
How could this be fixed?
Facebook needs some “No Men.” Something tells me that “No” isn’t something that goes over well at Facebook. This could have something to do with the recent exodus of major developers from the site. Either the UI Design Team(s) do as they are told and make the best of bad ideas, or they’re hiring some bad talent. Something tells me that feature requests come from the executive level, and the UI teams do what they can to fit the ideas into the site.
Did someone sit in a meeting and say, “Timeline is a bad idea that will make navigation harder, comprehension harder still, destroys workflow, breaks the design of the overall site, and totally piss off a major percentage of our user-base?” Did anyone care if they did?
What’s wrong with Facebook isn’t Timeline, or sorting, or lack of configurability, security concerns, the hiding of the personal options menu, or any of the other niggling little things that drive its users crazy. The problem with Facebook is that it doesn’t care what the users think or want. It’s a common thing in software development. It usually comes from the top, and it is usually up to the ones with the skills to make up for the bad executive decisions such as Timeline.
I like Facebook well enough. I like being able to stay in touch with family and friends, especially now that I’m living in New York City. Facebook gives me a way to share my life in my new city with my family back home. Because Facebook has had so many bad features forced on me, it takes longer for me to get started and handle my social business. In order to use Facebook the way I want, I have to spend more time on the site doing non-useful things. Instead, I spend MUCH less time on the site.
Let me make that much clearer, just-in-case Mark Zuckerberg reads this. I spend FAR less time on Facebook these days. The primary reason for this is that new features are making it harder for me to “facebook.” Between bad sorting (first fix each session), slow scripts, auto-refreshing while I’m reading down-page, the inability to block content re-shared from groups, the silly right-side trying to get me to use yet another stupid feature (best friends now? Really? Don’t we have friend grouping for that?), and the inability to change much of anything to improve personal workflow, I’ve started actively disliking the site. It’s not Facebook I despise. It’s the Facebook website I despise.
So, Facebook, want to learn how to fix all this? Want to know what you can do to make your users like you again?
How about, for once, giving a damn what they think?
Edit: Here is a great article about someone that’s decided to quit Facebook, and why. It’s a familiar pattern.