When I logged in to Facebook this morning (let’s be honest, I just flipped to the tab — who logs out on their own computer anymore?) I was struck by something. My news feed and the rest of the page looked different in radical ways. I’m not a fan of the changes, but let me describe them to you first and then give my opinions.
The first thing I noticed was a change in the way things were displayed in the news feed, both the order and the organization. The center column now seems to begin with a “Most Recent” section that shows several of the bleeding-edge most recent posts from my friends and the pages I follow. Below that a “Top Stories” section shows, apparently, whatever Facebook thinks I’ll care most about. The last section, which occupies the remainder of the column, is marked “From Earlier Today” and appears to include something akin to the “Top News” version of the news feed that existed before.
Simply Zesty shows an example with the top block labelled “Top Stories from the Last Hour” which I suspect must be simply another title for use when one’s news feed is busier that mine is at 3 a.m., and also describes a real-time status update bar similar to the one on Twitter.com.
Posts that Facebook identifies as “Top Stories,” regardless which section they appear in, include a small blue triangle in the upper-left corner of the post. The triangle is not interactive beyond displaying a “Top Story” label when hovered over. On my own posts, I can control the level of privacy and several other settings by clicking a button that appears in the upper-right corner where we used to see the classic “X” button.
Replacing the “X” button for posts that are not my own is a new button with a downward arrow on it. Clicking on the button expands a menu with all the options one expected before, as well as new options to define the nature of my subscription to that person or page with three options: All Updates, Most Updates or Only Important. It appears that Facebook is respecting the settings for people and pages I had previously hidden from my news feed, but the default setting for everyone else is Most Updates.
Next I noticed the live stream of Notifications or Notification-like updates that appeared above the Sponsored section of the right-hand column. I found a post on AllFacebook.com that describes a new behavior for the top navigation bar, locking it to the top of the display portal even when you scroll. What this post doesn’t mention, though, is that the new streaming list of Notifications is locked below the top navigation bar, sliding over the ads, friend suggestions and recent photos normally shown on the right as you scroll down the page.
This Notifications pane is live updating like the chat box, so as new things Facebook deems worthy of your notice occur the Notifications slide into place at the top of the stack.
A handful of new Lists on the right caught my eye next. I don’t normally use Lists so this was new for me in more ways than one. A quick search turned up a post from Don Reisinger describing a feature called Smart Lists. Further examination revealed that I now had a handful of Smart Lists, including one for each of my networks (my employer, my alma mater and my high school), one for “Denver area,” one for Family and “Restricted.” As far as I can tell it is not possible to delete the Smart Lists, though they can be renamed.
“Close Friends” and “Acquiantances” lists are not auto-populating like the other Smart Lists, Reisinger says, but when viewing the edit mode on them Facebook makes suggestions from your friends list which appear to be based primarily on the frequency of the users’ posts and of your interaction with them. These also cannot be removed, but clicking “More” at the top of the lists display in the right-hand column takes you to an edit page where you can hide any or all from the display on your homepage.
The “Restricted” list carries this description from Facebook: “This list gives you an easy and private way to limit what you share with someone—without blocking or unfriending them. They won’t see the list name or be told they’re listed.”
Photos in posts are now much larger, more like what we’ve seen on Google+ as this post on Simply Zesty points out.
It also appears that Status Updates, Photos, Videos, and other types of posts are now considered separately, making it possible to subscribe your little sister’s status updates while ignoring the dozens of daily photos of her horse, or perhaps you have a friend who is a brilliant short film maker but whose inane status updates bore you. I see potential in this.
As several other blogs have pointed out, including this detailed description on TechCrunch, all these changes smack of Facebook picking up cues from its first potential genuine threat, Google+.
Digging deeper, it appears this change has been slowly rolling out for a long time. Jenn Strathman seems to have gotten the new look the same time I did, and she found an Mashable post from July 22, 2010, that describes the change away from “Top News” and “Most Recent.” Given an apparent recent increase in complaints about the changes, my guess is that the roll-out is accelerating.
A few minutes’ Googling reveals unsurprising reactions to the changes. There is a whole Facebook page devoted to lamenting these changes named “MORE STORIES sucks – I want my old news feed back…now!.”
Perusing only reaction and information from the last 24 hours on Google I noticed these reactions:
- Jane Tillotson Rogers: “Did Facebook really make these changes to News Feed or has the system been hacked? Surely a Facebook employee wouldn’t make the news feed/homepage so useless. PLEASE…bring back the old format!!!!!”
- Colleen Maier: “I do not like the new News Feed. I am losing interest in Facebook with this new newsfeed. I don’t appreciate changes either. I ask my coworkers about the new look of Facebook because I don’t understand it and they say theirs is just like always. Very Frus”
- Brian CC: “change back to the old view format or how do i contact facebook to get them to change it back”
Facebook’s explanation, widely remarked on as useless, was: “We sometimes test new features with small groups of people who use Facebook. The test group may get bigger or smaller over time, and people who have been added to the group will see these features as long as the test is running. In many cases, the new features eventually become a part of Facebook for everyone.” (Updated 3/11/2015: This post was quietly removed some time later.)
These changes are unpopular for a reason. Or a handful of reasons, actually.
- I can’t view my news feed in chronological order.
- I can’t even view everything from all my pages and friends without a lot of work, because
- there is no way to set all the pages and friends you follow or subscribe to to “All Updates” without visiting each one individually.
- The live feed on Notifications is very distracting as it slides down the page, and
- as updates slide into place on it.
- The live feed of Notifications is full of things that I would never have seen otherwise (Friend A posting on the wall of someone I’m not friends with, Friend B commenting on a page I don’t follow, etc.). Some may enjoy this, but some control of the level of granularity displayed, at least, would be nice.
- No. 6 raises the question: Will other people be seeing updates of my interactions on Facebook with people they don’t know? Can I control how much is shown?
- I don’t want to be forced to have my content divided into lists — I’m glad the option exists, but it should remain just that: an option.
Of course every major change has its cons, but there are a few pros as well:
- I like that the new menu on each post includes a number of additional options.
- Separation of content into types could give a new level of refinement to controlling what you see and from whom.
I’m confused on one other point, as well. The “Hide All By” option is gone from the menu on each post, but there are two new ones in its place: “Unsubscribe from Status Updates By” and “Unsubscribe from.” Since the new Subscribe feature includes options to regulate content flow and makes it possible to follow people you are not friends with, do these options mean that it’s possible to remain friends with someone which no longer following them? Is the net effect that of hiding all their posts as before?
Because I enabled subscriptions yesterday and picked up my first subscriber (Thanks, @ckanal!), am I seeing multiple changes implemented at once that have added up to this complete revision of my Facebook news feed?
Whether that’s the case or not, I’m not at all a fan of the changes. In my complaint to Facebook I detailed two changes I’d like to see if this is the new order:
- The ability to disable or hide the Notification timeline in the right-hand column.
- The ability to set your news feed to a true chronological, totally complete view of everything coming from every page, friend or subscription (leaving it up to us to individually hide those sources we no longer want to see updates from).
In the case of No. 2, the new levels of interaction would be a boon — I could be sure I would never miss a single post from my best friends and favorite pages, while hiding all but the most important from an acquaintance who posts a lot of mindless updates. But the key is the ability to view it in a totally chronological and complete fashion — I’ve long thought that a way to bookmark your place in the feed, or to ensure that you’re going down far enough not to have missed a gap since the last time you caught up, was a glaring omission on Facebook’s part.
Do you have these changes in your news feed? Which do you like or dislike? Tell me in the comments below.
UPDATE Sept. 17, 2011, 3:13: P.M.: I’ve received an acknowledgement email from Facebook regarding my Problem report, and upon logging in to Facebook I find my news feed reverted to the old style. The Smart Lists remain, and the expanded menu for each post in the news feed (although this menu now appears on the old-style “X” button). Perhaps Facebook took pity on me.