Archive for the 'facebook' Category

The new Facebook: Not yet unfriended by users, but close

Facebook recently made a change to their interface that was the subject of outrage for many of their users, inspiring more than 1.7 million to sign a petition to reject it.  Facebook has made some changes to accomodate some of the things users said were problems, but many of the changes (including the slower-to-render rounded corners on pictures) appear to be here to stay.

Initially I was mildly irritated by the new interface, but I put it down to my change aversion (users near-universally hate change, which is why if you’re making major changes, they better help users out substantially).  However, as time has gone on, I have become more irritated with the new interface, not less.  As I see it, there are a few problems with the new interface:

  • The proliferation of nonsense in my news feed, without an option to show status updates only.  Yes, I can turn the rubbish from every application off, if I want to, but this requires effort on my part, and will happen every time a new crop of applications becomes popular.  It’s also fairly irritating that I had to go to a help guide to even find out how to do this much, because the mechanism for operating these options is hidden unless you happen to look in the right place at the right time.
  • Another side of the same coin: having to edit applications not to publish my life story immediately upon adding them.  I don’t particularly want to bombard my friends with nonsense every time I play a turn in Lexulous.  This means I have to be particularly pro-active in editing the settings for my applications so that they don’t bombard people, and the function for editing this is reasonably difficult to find
  • The lack of automatic updating.  I know the old interface didn’t have it, but the trade off for change was supposed to be that we got automatic updating. This change has had no benefit for me, so I resent the fact that the one useful thing that was supposed to happen didn’t.

Do I think no interface should ever change their look and feel?  Absolutely not.  Do I think that Facebook should have done some usability testing before lanching this design?  For sure.  Do I think they did?  Dubious at best.  The Facebook approach, which is one that will always generate negative publicity, is to test their designs on real live users.

According to this blog post, the best way to plan change requires four steps: knowing your customers, listening to them, communicating with them, and responding to them. I think that sounds pretty good–pretty much like doing good user experience, in fact.  And Facebook didn’t do too badly, on a points system–they did warn users (albeit not in a way that most users would notice), and they did respond to some of the complaints users had (albeit not in a way that is really that satisfying).  Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose which things you want out of that list–good user experience requires all of them.

Nonetheless, I think many (if not most) Facebook users will suck up the changes, even though they don’t like them, because for now, Facebook offers them more than the changes have taken away.  Having said that, though, like I said in my earlier post about Facebook and MySpace, people have personal purposes for using social networking tools.  If Facebook continues to change in a way that breaks that purpose (as the first iteration of these changes did), they will find that users (and thus their advertising dollars) drift away.

What product or service have you used that has slowly worn away at your loyalty until you couldn’t stand it any more?


One of these things is not like the others: Livingsocial’s recommender services

Last year I did an experiment: I logged every book I read, complete with tags about timing, subject matter, fiction or non-, andf themes, in Google books.  This was inherently satisfying to my curiosity (63 books last year, 24 of whiuch were non fiction), but was lacking something I’m interested in: a recommendation feature.

During the year, I discovered I could also log my books in Facebook, in a service that does have a recommender feature based on ratings (but no tags, sadly–I know, I should have just used librarything in the first damn place).  Thus I entered the exciting world of LivingSocial, which accepts ratings for books, albums, movies…and restaurants.

While I haven’t bothered too much with the music recommender service (though I should try, since my taste is all over the place), but I have found the book service and the movie service to be quite exciting–I’ve seen lots of books and movies I want to read/see.  So when I noticed last night that they also had a restaurant section, I was cautiously excited: I love food and I am always looking for places to try, but I suspected that it might be a US-only service.  It’s not, but I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, mostly because it doesn’t take into account the differences between books/movies/albums and restaurants:

  • Availability of large, relatively comprehensive catalogues: There are a wide range of relatively-comprehensive online catalogues for books and movies–think Amazon or LibraryThing. The same is not true for restaurants: there may be listings in the local yellow pages for some towns, some of which may be available online, but these listings would be difficult to harvest and far from comprehensive.  As a response to this, Livcingsocial will actually allow you to add your own restaurant listings, but only after you have rated 20 restaurants.  If you don’t do a lot of travelling, and your city doesn’t have any restaurants listed, this could be a bit difficult.
  • Location dependence: Subject to availability, playing equipment and local censorship laws, books/movies/albums may be enjoyed anywhere.  Restaurants, however, are only really available to those living or travelling (let’s be generous) within say 100 km (60 mi) of the restaurant’s physical location.
  • Amount of information required to make a decision: Everyone has certain requirements of their entertainment, for example:  some people find swearing offensive, some people dislike science fiction intensely, some people cannot abide restaurants that won’t take bookings, some people are vegetarian.  Recommendations for books/movies/music are more likely to meet people’s requirements (going back to our example those who dislike science fiction will universally rate it lower, thus feeding each other’s recommendations) and even if they don’t, it is much easier to find out ahead of time that they are bad (in the example of swearing parental advisory stickers are a good clue). In the case of restaurants, however, there are more paramters in play (food, service, noise level, ambiance, wheelchair accessibility, child-frioendliness, diaetary requirements) and this type of thing is harder to tease out in a five point rating, and often harder to discover before making the time investment to actually go to the restaurant.

The restaurant recommender is based on the same principles as the other recommenders, the amazon style “people who liked x also liked y, and you like x so you will probably like y”.  My experience with it, however, was quite frustrating: I rated a significant number of restaurants (not without some difficulty, as there aren’t that may listed in Melbourne, so I had to go to other cities I had lived in), and then clicked on “recommendations”.  Most of the recommendations were for restaurants in the US, and there was no way to generate recommendations for a a specified geographic region.  If I were travelling to the US any time soon, this might be helpful if I were going to the specific cities where restaurants were recommended for me, but generally speaking, these recommendations are useless.

The problem here is that a model that works well for small physical items has been applied to experiences, and it simply doesn’t work–making the user experience clunky and ultimately frustrating, possibly more often than it is helpful.  LivignSocial would have been better to stick with wine!

Have you ever tried a product or service from a company that did other things well only to be disappointed?

The point of social networks: Perhaps there isn’t one for everyone

I’m a member of nearly every site dedicated specifically to social networking and available in the English language (but apart from Facebook and LinkedIn, don’t bother looking because I use a pseudonym). I have Bebo, MySpace, Orkut, Facebook, LinkedIn…I used to have Friendster I think, but I have long since forgotten my log in, and at one point I was a member of the now-defunct SixDegrees. I am or have been a member of special interest communities too — I’m in three book-based communities, I was a member of 43 Things and 43 People (I had to close my account because I kept being mistaken for someone else), I’m a member of Flickr, and Youtube.

Before you write me off as a slave to every next big thing, I’m a member of most of these things for research-related reasons — investigating how people share media and opinions, or share interests in special-interest communities. I was going to write about my thoughts on the differences between two of the major online services — namely Facebook and MySpace (thoughts that were crystallized by reading an essay by the guru of social networking research, danah boyd).

Instead of unpacking the differences between MySpace and Facebook from a non-US perspective, however, I decided to think aloud here about the point of social networks. I was inspired in this endeavour by fellow 23 things bloggers JWA, who finds it hard to go back to Facebook after blogging, Sara, who is engaging in social networking with some trepidation, and Trees, who finds the only thing worse than Facebook is the staff professional development software.

Of all those social networking things I am a member of, I only look at four of them with any regularity, and I use those four for completely different reasons:

  • LinkedIn: I believe being a member of LinkedIn, and being associated with some of the prominent names in my business could possibly be good for my career. It also forces me to keep an online CV up-to-date, which (despite never being headhunted in my life) I am told is a good thing.
  • Bebo: My step-sister and one of my favourite bands are on Bebo. The band I do keep up with in other ways (see below), but when my step-sister’s cat died earlier this month, the easiest way to get in touch with her and let her know how sorry I was was Bebo.
  • MySpace: MySpace is ugly, and has a reputation for being full of predators (though danah boyd wonders if this s a social kneejerk), and is absolutely ridden with advertising, but it is a way to keep up with the absolute latest on some bands that I like — some of these bands don’t actually have any other websites. Because Myspace is so interactive, bands often post more updates here than on their own websites (where else could I learn that on Thursday my favourite band is ‘at home’ and feeling ‘calm’). Most of the time that is the real hook MySpace has for me, but there are times when it is also nice to be able to talk back to the band — like when one of the bandmembers quit a band I love, I could leave them a message of condolence. The band probably doesn’t read it, but it made me feel better. MySpace has also been a venue for music discovery — some bands have sought mer out because of my friends list, and a very few of them have even been interesting to listen to.
  • Facebook: Facebook is the social networking site I use most regularly, and the one that I have the most friends on — and they are all people I know in real life (which is a big drawcard for Facebook). It is also one of the only sites where I use my real name, largely because of the hugely flexible privacy settings. Now, Facebook has a lot going for it; the applications are especially interesting — one of the ways I spend most time on Facebook is playing Scrabble with Scrabulous — feel free to track me down and challenge me to a game). What keeps me on Facebook though is being able to get in touch with friends and familywithot remembering phone numbers or email addresses, and without even really having anything to say — I can “poke” them to let them know I am thinking of them, I can post a news item some of them might find interesting, or I can change my status (which will appear in their “home” page).

So, what is the point of all these social network things? Well, in the US, social networking sites are used by teens much the same way mobile phones are here in Australia (at least according to the teens at a recent social networking symposium) — for private inter-teen communication below the parental radar. There’s all the old stuff that is trotted out about all Web 2.0 things, you know, that “they’re interactive, they allow users to create, share and discuss content”. They’re actually the only web 2.0 styled site where (by their very nature) everyone must be a producer — at a bare minimum everyone must produce a profile. Certainly they are making scads of money for their owners and creators by selling the platforms and selling eyeballs to advertisers.

So, in answer to Trees’ question “what’s the big deal about Facebook?“, well, frankly, there isn’t one — unless you find one (and like all social networking sites, it will die a death if it can’t find a way to keep you coming back after you find one). For JWA, a social network is not as interesting as her blog, maybe because she gets more discussion on her blog, or maybe because she enjoys the process of writing. For Susan, social networking has become a way to connect with her children and is therefore a good thing. Teens (and maybe adults, too) use social networking to try on identities to see if they fit. I use social networking sites to connect, and to pass the time. While the basic driving “point” of social networking centres around connection for most people, social networking is postmodern (much to my surprise and no small amount of embarrassment at liking it) . There is no point without context, and the context is what wants, preconceptions, and social norms individuals and their groups bring from experience. So if you’re worrying about not knowing the point, you can stop worrying now, because there isn’t one (at least for you). On the flip side, if you social networking so much that you want to set a social network up, you better make sure your user experience is really good, because the experience is the whole point for the early adopters (who will drive the later success or failure of your social network as “cool” or not).



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