Facebook have been experimenting with their new design since the beginning of the year, but only this week was it released to general users. Trying it out before required manually adding ‘new’ in front of your Facebook profile URL. However the official Facebook blog has now announced:
“Starting this morning, more and more users started seeing prompts on their home pages inviting them to switch over and try out the new Facebook. We’re also really happy to say that anyone can try out the new site now by visiting http://www.new.facebook.com.”
I have to say I love the re-design. This isn’t just a new theme with a few rearrangements here and there. It’s a dramatic change from the old Facebook you knew. What’s also great is that while no new features have been introduced as of yet, everything has been so well integrated now that everything feels new again.
Frankly, I think it leaves other social networks in the dirt. I know Facebook has been the social network darling since the development platform was released last year but that hasn’t meant everyone loved it. Criticisms over the last year have covered everything from privacy concerns, the moving target that is the Facebook API, the “walled garden”, spam, the useless applications and the crowded and noisy Facebook profile pages.
Personally I was never a fan. I used Facebook on the very odd occasion because everyone else was on, but it actually annoyed me a lot and there was barely one application which seemed worthwhile to add. The original idea of Facebook, to communicate and share, seemed lost beneath all the rubbish coming from the applications.
Well, the last year has seen Facebook taking steps to change all this. Sure, if you’re not a convert already you probably never will be, but at least take a look at some of the new changes:
Clean and Simple:
One of Facebook’s distinguishing features used to always be the simplicity of design and the profile pages. It lost some of this with the introduction of new features like the once-maligned news feed and the application platform. Remember the profile pages stretching interminably down the page?
Well the re-design has gone someway to bringing back the simple Facebook. What you will find on the Profile pages are a dramatically changed Wall which now includes the mini-feed, the wall and status updates all together.
This occupies a far larger space but simplifies the profile page considerably.
Pages have been widened and Tabs now run across the top of the profile and provide quick and easy access to additional information, photo albums and applications.
The redesign also goes some way to making advertising more prominent and in-line with the profile and feed above the fold. It’s one more step towards turning Facebook into the advertising platform it was supposed to become, with its recent deal with Microsoft to integrate Live Search and Microsoft advertising into the network.
As I mentioned, the wall and mini-feed have been combined to create an area you can post and share just about anything. This includes photographs, links, posts and status updates. More then that you can also comment directly to anyone’s newsfeed.
Taking over the World!
Okay, maybe this isn’t a specified aim, but Facebook has been making it pretty clear they have no intention of pulling down the walled garden. Rather they would like everyone to spend as much time as possible within Facebook itself.
Facebook Chat is one more way to keep people inside Facebook for all their communication purposes. Incidentally there are now a few external chat clients which also uses Facebook Chat. These include Digsby and Pidgin .
The Facebook re-design has incorporated a suspiciously Twitter-like interface for writing status updates:
The addition of the two extra words “right now” do little to assuage this impression.
Not only that, but threaded conversations can occur thanks to commenting on the newsfeed, something TechCrunch referred to as the “FriendFeed-isation of Facebook” . Comments can in fact be placed on any of the items shared on Facebook including links, posts and photos.
Also, along the lines of FriendFeed and the 394 thousand other web aggregators, you can import your feeds from various social networking sites including del.icio.us, Stumbleupon, Digg and Last fm.
Effectively these changes include the functionality of just about half of all Web 2.0 services I can think of.
Facebook has a lot of aspirations, perhaps the most ambitious is to become the ‘online OS’, the ‘Windows’ of the internet. It’s actually been very successful so far, but one issue has always been speed and usability.
Facebook has done a lot to reduce the number of page views required to navigate the site. The news feeds were a major factor in this, but even more so has been the increasing use of Ajax across the site. You can see this in the many overlays and instant results rather then being taken to a new page.
I think this is a very good step for Facebook. In some ways it’s not great in the many external websites that may feel threatened by the introduction of features aimed at stealing visitors from themselves. However I guess this is the natural order of innovation and competition, although I’m not sure if I see Facebook as the next Google or Microsoft of the web.
What do you think about the changes and re-design?