MICHAEL THORNER CONTENT DESIGN

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Facebook Changes

When Facebook began to implement chnages—without warning—to its service in a piecemeal way, at first I thought they were fine-tuning their news feed content sharing mechanism into oblivion. At first, users agreed, voting against the changes by a two-to-one margin.

Part of the uproar occurred because the changes began with no announcement. Media outlets did not start reporting the design upgrade until it was obvious that major changes were under way.

Facebook initially altered its news feed to make it easier to not follow another person’s status updates, not include their content within their news feeds, and basically not interact with them at all, yet still keep them in the “friends” list. Just “unfollow” them.

These changes, while increasing user control, takes away the egalitarian aspect of the social network, creating more boundaries, silos and barriers to sharing—a gated community with gates within gates. A user will never know if a friend has removed them. It does beg the question, why share? Once again, Facebook redefines levels of online “friendship.” Having said this, there are obvious and understandable business interests at work here.

Social network competitors Google+, having learned a thing or two from observing Facebook and Twitter, created opt-in options on content sharing. Facebook, in reaction, has gone for opt-out controls, alienating some users by taking away access to content they previously had.

Then came the sweeping changes.

The timeline is a complete profile page rethink. The homepage now includes the revamped news feed and scrolling ticker. News feed info is blue-tabbed, with an algorithm determining and prioritizing news stories based on users’ supposed relationships with whomever posted the stories, by how many comments they have received, the “type of story it is,” and so on.

I’m not sure if I like Facebook determining what my interests are. But the seemingly eternal ticker at the top right of the new homepage is fascinating. Constantly refreshing status updates by all my Facebook friends make me dizzy. I can see how alluring this feature might become. The scrolling wheel of data shows how assimilated social networking has become in people’s lives.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls the dramatic redesign “a new way to express who you are. I think it’s the engine for he future.” This is the potential power that Facebook wields. Astute moves on Zuckerberg’s part, or hubris? Will user behaviour determine the outcome? I love Facebook, and I am as yet undecided.

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