You Can’t Spell Facebooker without “FEAR”

October 21, 2009 in Facebook, Twitter

I wasn’t very happy when the “Facebook is buying FriendFeed!” news broke.  To me, it signaled a “full speed ahead” battle cry in the misguided race with Twitter down the “real-time stream” rabbit hole.  Strangely enough, fresh off a week dominated by “Why is FriendFeed a Ghost Town?“, some leaked designs suggest Facebook is putting on the brakes and returning to its roots.

I remember standing stationary in the busy hallways at SXSW/i ’06, mesmerized by the Twitter chatter plastered on Plasmas all over the Convention Center.  The overwhelming buzz and seemingly overnight new media darling status has quickly changed that mystical chatter into annoying noise.  What kind of noise?  Well, as I write this, the top trending item on Twitter is “RIP Kanye West“.  Now I’m sure it’s very possible that The Louis Vuitton Don has passed, but Jeff Goldblum and I are skeptical.

What does this “noise” have to with Facebook?   Nothing.  Other than its raging case of Twitter-envy.

The original Facebook News Feed worked as a curator.  It knew that you didn’t want to search through each and every one of your friends’ profiles to figure out the big news of the day.  Just like working through my email inbox, I could read through all of the Facebook-supplied, juicy tidbits until I got to one I had already read, and then cross “checking Facebook” off my mental to-do list.  “I’m done,” I would think.  “I’m caught up. I’m in the know.”

But like the Facebook fiend that I am, it wouldn’t take long for fear to creep in.  “Hm…it’s been a little while since I’ve been on Facebook,” would lead to, “I wonder if there’s anything new going on,”  which would ultimately turn into a panicked, “Crap, I hope I’m not missing anything!”, and right back to I would go.

But as Facebook started to feel the unwarranted heat from Twitter, the News Feed suddenly changed from a curated summary into a real-time, unfiltered activity stream.  Going even more Single White Female, Facebook organized a username land-grab, and even implemented their own version of @ replies.

Now this isn’t a problem when you’re just starting out on Facebook, but as the average social graph size continues to grow, it becomes impossible to read through absolutely everything.  Shouldn’t a friend getting engaged be given more prominence than Liz sending Eric a horse topiary?  With zero possibility of processing every bit of the unfiltered minutiae of my friends’ activities, there’s no fear of missing something, because you’re always missing something. Without that fear, checking Facebook slips a notch from being a must-do, to being a fun-to-do.

And that’s what the new Facebook homepage design hopes to fix.  Leaked earlier this week by a brand advertiser being pitched to by Facebook, it seems that they’re bringing story curation back to the forefront.

“Facebook is simplifying the user experience on the home page by introducing Top News and Recent Activity streams. Now, when users log on to Facebook for the first time in a while, they will see the most important stories that they missed while they were away. From there, users can navigate to the real-time stream and toggle between both views throughout their sessions. In addition to making it easier for users to view content that is most relevant to them, this change also speeds up the time it takes for the home page to load and makes birthday reminders more prominent.

Ultimately, Facebook believes these changes will increase engagement on the home page by surfacing more relevant stories to users.”

The emphasis added was mine, and it can’t be stressed enough.  Facebook is turning off the firehose stream of data, and returning to the role of uber-connected friend that knows all the best and most juicy gossip. If you don’t stay in touch, you’re going to miss something.

Facebook is bringing the “fear” back. And that should scare all of its competitors.

2 Comments to You Can’t Spell Facebooker without “FEAR”

  1. Excellent write-up!

    I am thankful that Facebook made this change. I prefer to read the actual news about my friends separate from “news” about game and other application activity.

    I’m sure that my friends are sick of seeing these messages and likely hide my messages from their feed. So I become conflicted about letting an application post to my wall. I want to share with a specific audience not my entire friend list.

    This should dramatically help with the flood.

  2. Sherri Fleming on 26 October 2009
  3. If executed just right, the changes would absolutely up the game — but a few days in, I don’t think actual presentation measures up.

    I got the chance to talk today with someone who worked on She said something that made a lot of sense – that takes every design to usability, because they understand that they are designing for the lowest common denominator. The least frequent internet users.

    While the concept makes sense, I think Facebook might have overestimated their audience’s level of savvy — or, more accurately, the intuitiveness of their design.

    It’s just not clear how the thing works, and only time will tell if that’s something their newfound audience of 55+ will overcome.

  4. Erin Young on 28 October 2009

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