This post has been a long time coming. Okay, a couple of weeks. Not that long ago, Facebook unleashed a giant update to their site a couple days before announcing their new profile- the Timeline.
With most large sites, when they’re about to roll out a big update, they let you know. Remember “New Twitter”? Twitter had a link at the top of the page asking if you wanted to try it. They also talked about the changes on their blog. Whenever Gmail rolls out new features, it’s the same deal- links at the top of the page and in depth explanations on the blog, usually with videos to help explain the features.
Facebook tells you that they’ve added one feature, while neglecting to tell you that they’ve completely redone the back end of the site.
This update was no different. It added the Ticker, a constantly scrolling mini-Feed in the upper right of the corner, which had already appeared as a Game Ticker when playing games in Facebook. It added subscriptions, which allows people to follow you (or you to follow people) like you can on Twitter or Google+, no mutual relationship involved. But more importantly, it completely shifts the way that your privacy is handled.
Subscriptions. I actually like this- it allows people have one account (as opposed to a Facebook Page & personal account) and simply decide what’s put out their by using the “Public” privacy setting, and using lists to control who sees the rest. Not only that, but you can decide what sort of posts you like to see from your friends. Say you have a friend who plays FarmVille all day long, and you just want to see when she posts pictures of her kids? You can turn off the subscription to her game posts- or decide you just want to see “important posts.” Or, say you have a person you only added for game posts, you can say that you don’t want to see anything but their game posts.
There are a few ways to play around with your subscriptions. You can go to your friend’s profile page and in the upper right corner, you can adjust what you subscribe to by hovering over the subscribe button. Or you can hover over a friend’s profile picture in your news feed and up will pop a screen with the subscription button (you can also unfriend people this way as well). The last way is to scroll down to the bottom of the facebook page. You’ll see a bar that has two links. One to load more updates and on the right to “Edit Options”, which is what you want to click on. A window will pop up with a list of your friends, and there’ll be another link for “Manage Subscriptions”. This will show an entire page of your friends, so that you can just scroll down and adjust what you see. The first thumbnail in this paragraph will take you to a screenshot of where to find the Edit Options and Manage Subscriptions. The second thumbnail will show you an overview of the subscriptions page itself.
I have two problems with how subscriptions were rolled out. First, Facebook decided that you want to see “Most Updates” from your friends, instead of “All Updates.” So if you want to see everything, you’re going to have to change that. But the bigger problem is that they don’t have a way to change your subscriptions globally. Meaning, if you want to see “All Updates” – you’re going to have to change it friend by friend.
Privacy. There has been a huge shift in privacy with this New Facebook. Instead of you being able to control precisely who sees what, a lot of the privacy settings are now in your friends’ hands. My default status post privacy setting is “Friends Only”. Say you comment on a status of mine. Facebook will broadcast that you’ve commented on that post within our mutual circle of friends. Now, say it’s a post that I’ve set to “Public.” It will broadcast to all of your friends both in their news feed and ticker that you commented on a post of mine. There is no way for you to opt-out of this yourself. You either have to ask your friends to turn off “Comments and Likes” from their subscriptions options, ask them to stop posting with the Public setting, or only post comments on posts that you’re comfortable with the whole world possibly knowing what you said.
The Game Ticker. This went live about a month ago, and is actually sort of helpful. You can see when your friends are playing, and when they’re likely to help out by sending you things. But at the same time, if you’re playing while at work, you’re also broadcasting to the world that you aren’t actually working. Or that you’re playing Fluffy Princess Monkey Ninjas (I just made that up, but feel free to use it for a game).
Unfortunately, Facebook didn’t make it easy to opt-out of this either, but there is a way. While you’re in a game, you’ll see posts pop up on the right. Hover over the post that says that you’re playing whatever game it is. It’ll expand it, just the way the big ticker works. From there you can mouse over the upper right of the window and click on the little arrow button. A drop down will appear. Click on “Don’t Publish is playing ‘Game Name’ posts”. And voila! All of those posts will be gone. (The thumbnail here shows you what I mean)
Of course, you’ll have to do it game by game. But at least you can hide them.
Facebook, I expect changes. I don’t care about changes, as I expect them regularly- but if you’re going to dump a major change on your users, make sure that you keep something the same. The privacy controls are completely different, in addition to the changes that were made. And make it so that you have detailed walkthroughs so that users can actually see how to handle what they’re doing. While I don’t want to help you too much, you’re letting your users get information on how to use your product from tech bloggers. You roll out product changes, expecting the power users to figure it out (which they do), but alienate your base of users by not warning them or explaining what you’ve done.
To the users out there, if you’re unhappy with the shift in privacy and want to try something else- there’s always Google Plus. It’s in open beta now (you won’t need an invite), and all you’ll need is a gmail address/google log in.
As a final note, I hate blogging about Facebook. It takes FOREVER to hide all the names and user pictures. So I hope you enjoyed my Gaussian blurring and pixelating.