Facebook.com, which has attracted legions of 20-something and younger users with its interactive tools and general networking concept, is getting ready to unveil a redesign with new features that make the Web site easier to use.
Many of the modifications respond directly to feedback from more than 100,000 Facebook users. They include changes in the way users can navigate profiles, and new portal pages that give them a more comprehensive view of their groups.
There are also improvements in the user interface and navigation tool to make it easier to for users to view profiles with fewer clicks. The redesign is hardly a rebranding of the wildly popular Web site, though. Facebook executives are playing down the changes, calling them “small and subtle.”
The gradual shifts in the design and, perhaps more importantly, the inclusion of user feedback should be welcome to Facebook’s user base, which startled the company last year by revolting against a change that had been suddenly introduced.
The tool in question, known as “News Feed,” automatically informed a user’s online friends of every change to his or her profile — including a time and date stamp.
News Feed constituted a privacy violation in the minds of many Facebook users, who called for boycotts of the social networking Web site.
Introduction of the feature, which could not be turned off, prompted the formation of groups — on Facebook itself, in many cases — to protest against it. Other groups have called for a one-day boycott of the site.
Rattled, Facebook introduced new privacy options within days, and gave users the ability to turn off the detested News Feed.
Change Is Good
Most Web sites hesitate to introduce dramatic changes, as consumers tend to like continuity. Social networking sites, though, have the challenge of needing to continually cultivate their bases in order to remain relevant, according to Charles King, principal of Pund-IT.
“The fact that people have access to higher bandwidth connections and better and better collaboration tools suggests that they could easily move to other types of collaboration if their attention wanes on a particular site,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Facebook has to add new features in order to keep its numbers up.”
Oftentimes, changes made to social networking sites work strictly behind the scenes, Jennifer Simpson, an analyst with the Yankee Group, told the E-Commerce Times.
“For example, speed is of the essence, so you want to have a lot of lightweight applications and services that speed the loading time of photos and documents. Users are increasingly looking for quick access to content. I’ve seen redesigns done using Ajax, which helps with the loading feature.”
Web sites have to keep their users’ demographics in mind, Simpson noted. Most the 20-something and younger crowd want to be able to access the Internet from a mobile device, for example. While that is an issue mobile device makers are still working on, Web sites should be cognizant of it and keep content mobile-friendly.
Social networks tend to be more forward-looking than other Web sites. “What social networks have realized is they cannot count on users being tied to a PC. People who are actively social are on the go and use their mobile phones a lot,” Simpson explained.
Compensation and Other Incentives
Features and incentives for users to post content are likely to become more common in the future, Simpson predicted.
“Bloggers are already seeing some of that,” she said. “They are creating content and, in some cases, are getting compensated for it.”
On sites like Facebook or MySpace, where several users drive inordinate amounts of traffic, they may begin to expect to share in the profits, she said. “This will be an issue for some users going forward.”