It has been a year since I became part of the interconnected crowd at Facebook (FB). I can still recall the joys of my first night on FB. In the span of a few hours, I was back in touch with many of the old friends from elementary through high school, whom I believed I would never hear of again. This was a belief deeply rooted in my subconscious, mixed with hopeless nostalgia, and the product of years of making and having to lose or leave friends. I took part in the reunion of a lifetime, a reunion taking place only for me, and for it, I didn’t even leave my chair. When I finally gathered the drive to shut down the computer and lie down, sleep was impossible with all the excited cells in my body taking all the peace away (this is not an exaggeration). Yes, it was an exciting experience — now a wonderful memory of the past — and FB made it possible.
As I look at my friends list, I see the bits and pieces of my history. Before joining FB, those pieces were separated and all over the place. They had nothing in common but me, who managed to keep each away from the other. FB became the tool that helped me merge the past and present, gathering all the faces that I portrayed, and the roles that I played, all under a single profile — that of Pardis Noorzad.
Having said that, I feel I should go through some minor user experience design problems that in my opinion, need to be addressed by the FB development team. They are enumerated below (in no particular order):
- Status Updates Format
- Application Boxes
- Comments on Photos
- Tagging System
- Chat Boxes
- Downloading the Whole List
- Status Update Text Box
It used to be <your_name> is <empty_space>, which took away the user’s creativity in the use of verbs and their tenses. Good thing, the ‘is’ was removed. However, the <your_name> part remains. If this is supposed to make the user keep the focus of their status on themselves, then it can be changed to I <empty_space>. Maybe it’s just me and the effects of all those Tarzan shows and movies I’ve been exposed to as a child, but I can’t help not having recollections of Tarzan’s lines every time I update my status or read others’.
E.g. Pardis wants better Internet access.
Reminds me of:
Tarzan is hungry, Tarzan wants food.
There’s really no need to have <your_name> there, the updates are always appended with a profile picture and a full name.
With the launch of the new FB, the boxes were moved to a separate tab. The bright side is that people’s profiles have a uniform look, the first page loads faster, and you don’t get bombarded with nonsense about your friends (like the fruit that they are :) ). The downside is, FB applications don’t get the attention they used to, even the good ones (like, wait, I’m thinking). FB apps lost the first class status they used to enjoy. I don’t have the statistics, but I can guess a fall in the number of app-users and therefore, a drop in the number of apps being created, and this is usually a bad thing.
When your friend comments on a photo from a photo set of yours, that friend’s friends get access to all the photos in that set. This can be a privacy issue for many. And what’s frustrating is that you’re allowed to see pictures that you can’t make comments on ;)
To me, this is the worst UI design mistake throughout FB. And it’s a shame, because the idea of tags on pictures is brilliant and of FB’s strong points — after the News Feed of course. The tag box is not resizable and it’s not draggable. It’s only effective for tagging a picture with at most three people situated uniformly across the picture. FB developers should look at Flickr‘s tagging UI, which helps place every tag exactly where it belongs.
I’m not and never have been a chatter. I think of myself as a step weaker than Dr. Knuth in my control over personal communication practices; I check my email twice a day. Therefore, I like the simplistic chatting system on FB which is appropriate for a little exchange of greetings. But with the number of friends (mine is at a modest 180+) rising almost every day, and hence, the number of online friends, there should be a way to quickly switch between the open chat windows, like a keyboard shortcut.
I’m not sure if this fits as a user experience design issue or not, but it is much needed anyway. What if one day, you wanted to close your account at FB, or FB got shut down temporarily. People like me who now rely on their FB account for contacting friends — even more than their email accounts — should be able to make a backup of their friends’ contact information, downloadable in some flavor of XML.
Microblogging is a fantastic way to express yourself, and let your friends understand and know you better. I like it better than blogging, because it is updated more often, it is more personal, and since it’s fast, it can be more sincere (I said “more”). However, there’s one major drawback. The text box size is too limited. I’m always running out of space in my status updates, I then erase the original and write a shorter, more dull version. I have to summarize and skip the cool details. Status updates should be something in between blogs and what they are now. They need to be extended to something more than just “Pardis is writing about this”.
That’s it with my little bit on FB design issues.
No matter how good FB is, or anything new on the Internet nowadays, you can’t ignore that they have the potential to take more out of your life and time than to put in. This idea is illustrated very well in a quote by John Ralston Saul,
The effect of new technology has been to draw even senior managers into minutiae. People paid to think and lead now spend much of their time typing and responding to or sending an endless stream of unnecessary messages, simply because communications technology invades every second and every corner of their lives. This bureaucratization of both the leadership and the creative process makes thought seem irresponsible and clear action seem unprofessional. It provides a sensation of activity while creating a broader sense of powerlessness. This is what used to be called being nibbled to death by ducks.
There are probably many ways of achieving “Internet use efficiency”. There is a way to benefit from all it has to offer without missing out on the rest of the more important things in life.
In the end, I’d like to point your attention to a very thorough article on the effects of social network apps like FB on individuals, written by Clive Thompson, in this New York Times article. Read it in your free time.