FACEBOOK has been busy rolling out changes to its site this past month, the biggest of which was revealed at the annual F8 conference in San Francisco, California, last week.
The new changes seem to have divided the social network’s userbase – while many users threaten to jump ship, there are a few who praise the changes that Facebook has brought on. Me? I was completely thrown off for the first eight minutes, seeing the top right corner of my screen taken up by a new ticker that perpetually feeds me the actions of my friends.
Obviously, that’s not the biggest change, but for me, the ticker’s the most visually arresting and divisive part of the evolution. I’ve seen more than one friend bemoan the constant distraction the ticker provides and the added busy-ness it adds to the page.
Another person asked: “What’s wrong with the notifications icon already on the top of the page?”
Well, the short answer is: “Nothing!”
The new, urm, “social ticker” doesn’t just alert you whenever you are tagged or mentioned in a post – it indiscriminately pulls all your friends’ updates – to themselves, to their friends or to their grandmothers – and feeds them to you. Seriously. You’ll now automatically see messages like “Alice likes Bozo’s Burgers” or “Robb commented on his own status.” Stuff you may or may not have wanted to know in the first place.
The underlying change is in the disposition of Facebook to the average user. In the past, friends threw sheep at each other and posted drunken pictures of one another. People didn’t care much about privacy settings or lists to enable different users to see different things, and you were relatively confident that the only people seeing your drunken pictures were your 56 close friends.
However, as time went by, things changed. Companies have come onto Facebook and used it to start engaging their “fans”. Celebrities made Facebook a way of reaching out to people who wanted to know about them, but they in return, didn’t want to know much about. And suddenly, Twitter happened – a place where anyone could be a celebrity!
Facebook has now finally responded to Twitter by introducing the “Subscribe” button. The change is fundamental.
Everyone now on Facebook can essentially be a public figure. You don’t have to “friend” everyone, you can just let people subscribe to you. To cater to this, when you’re posting updates on Facebook now, you can stipulate if you want to post to “public” or merely to “friends” or “friends of friends.” Sorta like Google+.
This means that Facebook is no longer exclusive only to symmetrical relationships – where being someone’s friend is reciprocal. You can follow people who don’t follow you, and people can follow you even if you don’t follow them. Most of all, people don’t need your permission to subscribe to your public posts – so long as you’ve turned on the “subscribe” feature.
This, combined with the new ticker, means Facebook is suddenly this place that’s awash with a tonne of updates from every direction if you’re bothered to look. But wait, there’s more. Not only can you subscribe to people now who may never want you as a friend (I subscribed to Mark Zuckerberg but he isn’t my friend), but Facebook also wants you to share more.
Front and centre of this is the upcoming ability for companies to take Facebook’s “Like” button, and change the verb. You don’t have to “Like” everything anymore; you can “Want” things soon. Or “Love” people. Or “Disagree” with a company’s position. The “verb” button will then reflect on your handy new ticker and broadcast your actions for the world to see. With your permission, of course.
Zuckerberg calls this “frictionless sharing” where sharing where you are, what you’re doing and the content you’re making is simply effortless. Think about it this way – let’s say you were surfing a website that had a very nice dress that you want, and it had a spanking new Facebook “Want” button next to it – clicking on that button will send an immediate post to your friend’s ticker to let them know that “your friend wants this”.
Most of this will no doubt be automated to a high degree as far as web and application developers can take advantage of Facebook’s APIs. But there’s got to be a limit somewhere. It’ll be really cool, for example, if I had a camera that would automatically update my photos via WiFi to my Facebook account and tag an action to the pictures and geography. My friends would automatically see where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing on my holiday, and I won’t have to manually do the uploading.
But it would be way less cool for one of those WiFi enabled bathroom scales to weigh me and post an update on my Facebook wall on my behalf saying, “David Lian weighed himself and now weighs 67kg.”
Or would it?
The last piece of the puzzle, if indeed it is one gigantic puzzle to turn around the Facebook experience is the newly announced Facebook Timeline feature last week. Short of reading what I have to say about it, surf over to http://www.facebook.com/about/timeline and see what it’s about.
But if you don’t have the Internet handy, Facebook Timeline is basically a new way to view the information you’ve put on Facebook – in a timeline format.
Facebook Timeline has taken that age-old desire to be able to remember exactly what we were doing on Oct 10, 2010 and present it in a beautifully designed render. Then, the weighing machine makes sense, particularly if weight is one bit of information I’d like to record automatically.
It may not be far off, but in the future, we could be recording everything about our lives through APIs like this. How about a fridge that detects what you’ve stored and uploads it to your Facebook Timeline automatically?