It came to my attention here and on TechCrunch a couple of hours ago that there has been a few changes on Facebook tonight. In addition to a minor makeover to the look of certain pages on the site, the two changes with the biggest potential impact are the News Feed and the Mini-Feed.
News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you’ll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups.
Mini-Feed is a new part of the profile that shows all the latest stuff someone has added on Facebook. Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.
So basically a record of each action you perform on Facebook and each profile update you make is logged and listed both on your profile and is streamed to all the people in your network. Of course, the intent of this feature is to help keep your friends updated with happenings in your life. So this is a great feature right? Here are some reactions from Facebook users on a big message board called OT that I’m on:
“this is horrible. i might just kill my account now”
“this is complete bullshit.”
“god damn these are stalker tools at its finest”
“good thing i graduated so i don’t use this anymore.”
“the Newsfeed business is the worst thing they could’ve possibly done to the site”
and my favorite comment which humorously points out how the feed system can be manipulated…
“I just got into a relationship, got engaged, got complicated, got married and now I’m single”
The facelifted UI also got negative reactions mainly because people think it’s too cluttered. One guy likened the messy design to MySpace, another wishes for a return to the simple purity of Facebook of 3 years ago, and another was worried about getting epileptic seizures from the new layout. =)
One aspect I think people overlooked is that you can delete any item from your Mini Feed that you don’t want people who view your profile to be alerted about. Facebook needs to emphasize this point. Currently there’s a tiny blue ‘x’ to the right of each item in your Mini Feed and I think people are not noticing it. However it’s not clear if deleting an item from your Mini Feed also deletes it from being published to News Feeds of people in your network.
We all know that a big reason why social networks are big is because people enjoy seeing what’s going on in other people’s lives. But there’s a big difference between looking and stalking. The News Feed feature turns social networking into social stalking and that’s just creepy. I think Facebook really needs to re-evaluate how the system works. Facebook has recently caught criticism from users who feel like the company just keeps stuffing the site with unnecessary additions (i.e. workplace communities) that spoil what once was an authentic experience. One of the best comments in the discussion was one user’s crude, yet truthful, opinion of what Facebook once was and what it’s now becoming.
The beauty of Facebook is to find people in your classes to borrow a book or locate a local college slut for a hookup. It’s now marketed to those who play wall tag with each other and try to make it a more sophisticated MySpace.
If you have a Facebook account, check out the changes for yourself.
UPDATE: Fred Stutzman had some great comments on this topic. Click here.
UPDATE 2: Just saying thanks to Margaret Kane at CNET News, Jack Schofield at the Guardian in the UK and Oliver Ryan at CNNMoney.com for quoting this post of mine in their news coverage of this story.
UPDATE 3: A reader asked me to comment on what I thought Facebook could have done differently. Here is an excerpt from a comment that I made on Fred Stutzman’s blog:
I feel like the biggest mistake Facebook made was in the rollout of the feed system. They should have given users a heads-up about the feature in advance of the launch and explained to users the benefit of the feed system and the related privacy issues (and include steps on how to control privacy). From all the comments I’ve read, I think people are negative because they logged into Facebook this morning and saw that a detailed log of their actions on the site is now in the public domain.
If I put my cell phone # on my profile, that is my choice and I do so knowing that it will be publicly available. Facebook did not give users the choice to publish their action history via the News Feed. They just went ahead and did it. Sure, the user can go back and delete individual items from their feed but it’s not hard to see why tons of Facebook users are having knee-jerk reactions of anger due to privacy invasion feelings. Users felt like they’ve lost full control of their Facebook identity.