Facebook changes confuse users, as a major overhaul looms

September 21, 2011

Facebook’s latest changes to its News Feed have rolled out across the network. But they’re causing some angst, if perplexed posts to Twitter — not to mention my personal network’s news feed and my e-mail inbox — are any indication.

And this may be just the beginning, as the social network is said to be planning even more changes to be announced when its f8 developers conference kicks off Thursday.

I know that when I logged into my profile Wednesday morning, I was hit with a deluge of mundane news tagged as important updates and a scrolling news ticker largely dominated by complaints, questions and frustrations about the new layout.

The latest changes are mainly to the News Feed, which now curates your friends’ posts and looks at a number of factors to decide whether they deserve top billing on your account’s home page. The network also changed the feed to more prominently display pictures and added a few settings meant to give users post-by-post control over the feed.

But until you take the time to sift through the posts yourself, Facebook is deciding what's important for you to see.

And how does Facebook determine that? When asked, a network spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday: “Just as we aim to show you the most relevant updates in your News Feed today, we use a variety of signals to decide whether a story might be interesting or important. For example, this may include changes about your employer, school, relationship status or city, as well as things like the number of likes or comments on a post. For example, if a friend's post gets dozens of comments or likes, it’s likely to be a top story.”

The network also pointed out that users can control what becomes a top story by interacting with their own feeds.

“You can click on a top story and tell Facebook that it’s not relevant to you, or you can mark a post a top story,” the company said.

The new, new Facebook is likely to include a media platform and more e-commerce integration, Mashable reported Tuesday. The changes may give Facebook’s online payment system, Facebook Credits, more visibility and may also be related to an HTML5-based mobile platform.

Meanwhile, Google is not-so-subtly pointing people to its social network Google+ from its main search page. (I literally mean pointing. With a big, blue arrow.)

A major barrier to switching to Google+ has been its invite-only system. But the search engine opened up the network to all users with Google profiles on Tuesday. With discontent growing over Facebook, could there come a mass exodus from the older site?

Of course, Facebook users tend to go through a cycle of complaints and acceptance when it comes to site changes. There’s always an uproar over new features — particularly when the company adds them without asking — and then the furor dies down quickly. The question here is whether a total redesign is a bridge too far for all but the Facebook faithful.

What do you think of Facebook’s latest changes? Weigh in with a comment.

(Washington Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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