Once upon a time — February, 2009 — Facebook was the single most powerful community-building tool I’d ever seen. Over the course of 2008, I watched it reconnect a group of friends — day by day, person by person — that had last been fully connected two decades ago. It culminated in an amazing post-Christmas reunion party organized entirely via Facebook.
Now, with the new Home Page, Facebook has broken its own back. It currently lays on the ground like a wounded bird, reduced to retardedly chirping over and over again: “What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind?”
But it can be fixed. Easily. And I know how.
First off, it’s important to say that the problem with the new Facebook home page isn’t the new design, per se. People refer to the problem as being with the redesign, because that’s what they’re interacting with, but what’s really missing is a whole slew of functionalities.
The problem, in a nutshell, is this: items that used to show up in the news feed have gone missing.
Every single one of these missing items helped build — or rebuild — communities by focusing Facebook users on not just what they and their friends were saying, but what what they and their friends were doing. That, right there, is a huge difference from what’s currently going on.
Think about it: how many times did you discover that a new person had joined Facebook because that friend had interacted with a group you were in? Or maybe they tagged one of your friends in a photo, or commented on a photo you’d commented on weeks, or even months, ago. Or maybe they just friended one of your friends.
Every single one of these actions used to show up in the News Feed. None of them currently do. You can see them all on someone’s Profile Page, but if you have dozens or hundreds of friends, that’s impractical. And some of them show up on the “Highlights” section on the right side, but that’s only a small, Facebook-chosen subsection of what your friends are actually doing.
The Highlights are useful about once every two days, and I’d guess that they ignore roughly 96.78% of what my Friends are doing every single day.
So how can Facebook fix their new Home Page? Simple: add a “Recent Activities” section on the left nav.
In the “Recent Activities” section, there could be six tabs:
- Friending: Shows who added who as a friend.
- Comments: Displays comments that your friends have made. On Photos, Links, Status Updates, Notes.
- Groups: Which of your friends joined what groups; what wall posts they may have made in those groups.
- Tagging: Who tagged who in what photo or note or link.
- Applications: Activities in Quizzes, Games, Polls etc. This keeps the News Feed uncluttered with all of those damnable quizzes, but allows people to keep tabs on them.
- Custom: User-configurable to display any combination of Friends and Activities.
In fact, each of these tabs should be configurable to the point where you can filter out not just information from specific friends, but specific types. For example, maybe you just don’t care about which five albums every single one of your Friends chose — you should be able to block that in the Applications tab.
(Actually, you should be able to block that in the News Feed without hiding the Friend. And the fact that they only allow you to hide the Friend indicates that someone thinks that the Friend is less important than the App.)
Naturally, you would still retain full and utter control over what information you wanted to share with your friends.
I’m sure I missed some details here and there — by no means is this supposed to be a fix for EVERYTHING wrong with Facebook. But by and large, if Facebook just added this functionality to the current UI, I’m guessing that a huge amount of the complaints about the new Home Page would dry up overnight.
And they still have access to this information: I still see all of these things every single day on the News Feed on my Facebook for the iPhone app. But not everybody has one, and the scheme above is far more organized than the jumble that was in the old News Feed.
Otherwise, the grumbling, which some have suggested is just the usual post-redesign grumbling, is going to turn into apathy. People will get bored with Facebook, not really knowing why they’re bored with it. And the 2009 version of the amazing Christmas 2008 reunion party won’t even get suggested, much less happen.
Because everybody will have left.