Facebook Goes Under the Knife Again

Facebook users were hit with a major update on Wednesday. The News Feed that displays other users’ status updates has been altered to a real-time news ticker. It is now tailored to how often a user visits the site. Updates are now ranked by factors that allow users to mark certain posts as top stories instead of simply displaying the most recent news.

The updated news feed will list stories based on how recently a user has visited. If a user has not logged on for some time, the top stories will include highlights of older stories.

Another addition is the new Subscribe button, which allows users to decide how many updates they want to receive from a friend. Also, Facebook photo thumbnails are displayed in a much larger form than before.

Although the update has only been live for a few hours, many users are voicing annoyance that the site has again altered the interface to which they’d grown familiar. This has also been the case with past Facebook updates.

Facebook did not respond to an E-Commerce Times’ request for comments by press time.

Updated but Annoying

Familiarity is a powerful aspect on the Internet. Users want to know where things fit on the screen. Improvements — no matter how helpful — often provoke some resistance.

“In theory the changes make Facebook easier to use,” Steven Savage, technology project manager and Geek 2.0 blogger, told TechNewsWorld. “Though by now people are so used to the way it works it’s a bit annoying.”

Facebook made the change, Savage said, because it was difficult to use groups in the previous configuration.

“Facebook did lack easy use of friend groups, and in general was a bit clunky in some cases,” said Savage. “These new changes should make it easier to use — and yes, they’re inspired by Google+.”

The changes didn’t necessarily impress Savage. He doesn’t believe they have a firm grounding in overall improvement.

“Facebook seems to keep adding stuff at near-random, and people don’t care and don’t want to learn it. They sort of ignore it,” he explained.

What About Google+?

Facebook is being accused of nabbing these changes from Google+, though Savage thinks that won’t cause a big stir among users.

“People will properly assume the changes derivative,” said Savage. “I think people have a sort of cycle of outrage, indifference, annoyance, use and acceptance with Facebook.”

It’s obvious that Google+ is putting pressure on Facebook, he added. “Facebook is clearly trying to keep ahead of the game. It has a very strong brand and it has a kind of freewheeling attitude. I find Google+ more organized and precise, and Google is also its own brand. So yes, there are differences on many grounds.”

At this point, though, Facebook has become almost more of a utility than a cool site, he opined.

“If Facebook has a problem, it’s that Facebook’s brand itself is really ill-defined anymore,” said Savage. “It just sort of ‘is’ because everyone has many ways to use social media.”

‘Mind-Reading by Machine’

The new version of the News Feed seeks to anticipate the most compelling thing for a user to experience. The updated News Feed is better at keeping users up to date if they haven’t logged in for a while.

“So far as I can see, the change simply alters users’ news feeds via an algorithm that supposedly prioritizes what they’ll be interested in most,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “More mind-reading by machine, in other words.”

Facebook is trying to improve its relationship with users, and this means some experimental changes. The site’s trying to improve its status as a gateway to interesting and important information on the Web.

“Whatever changes Facebook makes to its interface are designed to worm the site more deeply into users’ lives,” said King. “If they can accurately anticipate what users want to see first or see most, that could promote Facebook as users’ primary Web portal and information exchange, thus increasing the company’s value to advertisers. In one way, it’s simply an act of Facebook self-promotion.”

Some users will hate it, King said, while many may simply not care. Facebook’s previous updates have also been met with frustration.

“We are going to see the same stages of reaction we’ve seen pretty much every other time Facebook does something different: outrage, annoyance, eventual acceptance,” said King. “The question this time, though, is whether this will cause Facebook users to move to viable alternatives like Google+. In past instances, viable alternatives were pretty thin on the ground.”

While Facebook has been criticized for imitating Google+ with the new update, the two sites remain significantly differently products.

“From what I can see, Google+ offers users a fundamentally different approach to building and managing social networks,” said King. “In fact, you could argue that Google+ is designed to help facilitate the natural evolution of social networks. As it’s gotten larger, Facebook seems to be getting less flexible & increasingly intent on simply maintaining its own forward motion.”

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