Why the New Facebook Profile Doesn’t Work
Continuing our discussions about companies that seem to be run by monkeys is… Facebook. It’s not that I doubt Mark Zuckerberg’s genius or that Facebook revolutionized the way we connect with friends and family, but some of their user experience decisions really make me wonder. If I had to describe them in one word, it would be “juvenile.”
Because the people in charge of the changes seem to have no basic understanding of what Facebook members need or want, nor of basic design principles. It’s as though they’re following a whim rather than tracking user actions.
I’ve already written about the 14 biggest usability mistakes on Facebook. Nothing has improved since then. But a few days ago, Facebook rolled out a new profile page. In my opinion, it’s another huge step back in the user experience.
Let’s go over the new page from top to bottom and dissect it to find out why it doesn’t work.
Putting Common Knowledge at the Top
At the top of the page, we have the name — that’s good! — followed by a few details about who this person is in a relationship with, their birth date and education. This part of the page is the most valuable “real estate,” the area that everyone sees every time they look at the profile.
It’s now showing content that rarely changes and that friends and family already know — and it’s showing it ALL THE TIME. Every time I go to this person’s profile, I’m going to see the same information about them. Dear Facebook, this is my FRIEND. I already know who they are sleeping with, and their date of birth.
On a public social network like LinkedIn, where I view a lot of profiles of people I know nothing about, it is helpful to include basic information at the top of the page (well, except for the relationship bit). It helps me to absorb quickly the basic information I need to determine whether I should do business with them.
But Facebook is a closed membership site. We use it to view profiles of friends and family, people with whom we’re already familiar. Showing basic information that doesn’t change at the top of the page makes no sense at all.
On the old profile, basic information like this was on the left side of the page, which made a lot of sense. It wasn’t in your face each time you visited the profile but it was there if you were looking for it.
Displaying Distracting Pictures at the Top
Under the relationship, education and birthday information, we bump into a bunch of what appears to be random pictures of this person taken from their albums. Again, it really begs the question: WHY? Photos grab attention and distract us from what we really came to do. That’s not to look at an old picture that we’ve already seen, but to see what’s new with our friend, what they’ve been up to lately, what’s on their mind. None of those things is likely to be a ski trip from 1997.
This collection of photos is so distracting and so in your face. It’s like someone jumping in front of you as you try to greet a friend.
Sharing is Harder
Moving down, we see “Share: post, photo, link, video.” The box that allowed us to enter a comment just by clicking on a box and hitting Send is GONE. Now I have to find the share area and realize that I have to click on “post” before I can write anything. These are just way too many unintuitive steps for doing something that’s very basic.
The old comment box was one of the things that made Facebook such a success. Its simplicity had a huge psychological effect, encouraging people to send quick notes and stay in touch. Having a photo right next to that box was also important. All this is gone now, leaving us with tiny links under random photos that overshadow them completely. Now the feeling is that we need a reason to write.
No Important Info on Top
Moving further down the page, we notice that we’re missing some useful tabs: walls, photos, info, links. Those tabs were taking us to the information we really needed when visiting someone’s profile — the stuff that changes regularly — and they were right on top, where they should be. But now they are on the left, under the photo, a less important region. The main spot is taken by those old vacation snaps.
It’s pretty basic stuff: put the important information top-center. Put the less important stuff on the left or bottom. Put the call to action at the top-right. It’s the ABC of user experience.
On the left, I can see who my friend is in a relationship with, and this time I can also see a picture of their partner; before it was just a link. That’s an improvement but do I really need to have this at top-center as well?
List of Friends Take More Space Than Necessary
Below the partner, I can see a list of friends, as before, but now instead of seeing six thumbnails that took a small amount of space, I get a list of TEN friends with names and picture, one after the other, that take a huge amount of space. Again, WHY? On average, people have about 150 friends. Since there is no way to show all those friends on the profile page, displaying just a small sample makes sense. Why show a much bigger sample in a format that takes a lot more space?
I do like the separate family list though. That’s useful. But the list of friends and family together is so long that you barely notice the links under them.
Call to Actions Are Hard to See
On the right, moving the “chat,” “send message” and “poke” actions to the top right makes sense as far as usability is concerned but the photos to the left and under them make the actions hard to see.The 30 pixel gap below helps a bit though.
The Facebook profile page is the site’s most fundamental feature. Since people spend more time on Facebook than any other site on the Web, it’s important to get it right and not annoy them with visual noise and misplaced priorities. Making sure that the most important elements are top-center, that there are no distractions in the form of photos, that it doesn’t take too many steps to perform the most common actions, and that basic information doesn’t take prominence are all key to doing it right. In fact, the way it was before. Why fix something that’s not broken?
In other words, fire the current designer and hire back the previous one… with a bonus!