The wait is over. Mark Zukerberg unveiled a host of new updates to Facebook at the F8 Conference. Just after Google’s attempts to shake up the social network scene a bit with the uber sexy G+, there was a widespread speculation among the tech community on Facebook’s ability to react and survive. But it looks like they are well-prepared for the Social Networking war.
Facebook is preparing to make a giant leap from being your Social Activity Stream to being your Life’s Stream and a one-stop Media and Entertainment Hub. They are planning to move towards this goal with two key concepts – Timeline and Open Graph.
Timeline is a refreshingly radical concept which can redefine the way social content is created and consumed and will eventually phase out the Profile view of the user.
The current FB Profile page presents your recent activities to others (as controlled by your privacy settings) in a list view. But in its current avatar it is just a chronological report which does not really communicate who you are. This has been a major problem for social feeds- a lack of visceral clues and activity based structural data to define the personality of the user. In the absence of which there is too much cognitive load in consuming social data presented on Profiles. Insights from the pathbreaking app Flipboard, for its way of representing social data in a visual magazine like format and micro blogging service Tumblr for stunning presentation of micro blogging must have inspired the FB designers to review the Profile experience. Instead of an often meaningless list of recent activities, you now have a view of a user’s life stream – presented as a continuous UI that scrolls from current events to the time of birth. Most interesting entries are identified by Facebook’s underlying Graph Rank algorithms and are presented in a two column layout.
Zukerberg says FB wants to give its users something they feel as their home, a space they would love to maintain and curate. They have a whole new set of possibilities defined at this new home. You can interact with your life at any point in time. Did not have a Facebook account when you were born? (Not a silly question as I know many parents who have created email IDs and FB accounts for kids while they were in their mom’s womb!) Not to worry, the next time you find that childhood naked picture from your family album, click a picture on your mobile and post it to your childhood on the Timeline. You can add events that happened in your life before Facebook was even born.
This opens up a whole new paradigm in the perception of social media interactions. For example, a news application can present content in a timeline view allowing for better context.
The user experience is polished and smooth. There are few rough edges though. For example, the ads overlapping with the timeline anchors or the poor touch on Tablets. But overall, it really brings a wow factor that’s usually not associated with the Facebook and user experience.
Facebook introduced Open Graph in 2010 to integrate web pages into user’s social Graph. This has become an instant hit and revolutionized the way content is currently shared over the Internet. Just by clicking a “Like” button anywhere on the web you could add that as part of your social graph. This way Brands/ Authors could reach out to specific consumers who liked their product/ content.
The new Open Graph takes this to new heights. You can now add more specific user “Actions” apart from the “Like” action to Facebook Apps. You can also define different content “Objects”. This creates many possibilities. A book club app can have several actions defined to its interaction objects- Read, Like, Recommend, Edit, Hate, Reviewed etc. The objects can be a Short story, Fiction or a book on Technology. More specifically, interactions can be truer to the concept of the App rather than an odd integration with the “Like” button. For example, an app for causes can now incorporate support, object or volunteer actions to an entry rather than an ambiguous “Like” action. Facebook calls this Frictionless Experience. Also, Open Graph lets applications to push these actions to its social channels- Ticker, Timeline and Newsfeed seamlessly.
As a result, users can selectively consume content created by these apps and brands can derive more meaningful insights from user’s activity on their apps. The new graph also allows deeper integration into social channels offered by Facebook. Apps can be added to users Timeline, and their activity on the app can be aggregated meaningfully and presented. Services like Spotify, Washington Post and Hulu have already made their presence felt by creating social discovery Apps that enable recommendation and synchronous streaming of media between friends.
The new updates are not without its concerns. As of now it is not clear if the users will get to control what actions they want to share. While allowing social updates to selected lists at a high level, Facebook may not give users much control over the actions that are being broadcast. This is in line with Zukerberg’s controversial belief that sharing in public is the new social norm.
While the user’s activity on an app can be viewed on a timeline, there does not seem to be a direct way of showing the overall activity of all the app users on one single timeline. This will be an interesting concept to explore for brands.
It is also unclear as to what will happen to branded pages. Although it is easier to visualize them as a timeline view, one may wonder why there are no updates from FB on pages in light of new Open Graph concepts or what type of social signals are generated with user’s existing brand affinities on FB.
The experience is certainly not optimized for tablets. While previewing app on Safari on iPad, the time line editing and touch interactions on the tiny highlight bubbles just did not happen. The mobile version is not yet out for public use, but from the visuals shown, the timeline interactions seem optimized and well integrated for mobile screens and touch interactions.
Why should you care?
While there is a widespread hue and cry over the new changes, it is certainly a bold attempt from Facebook which pushes online social interactions to newer heights. From the user experience point of of view, once the initial surprises are over, the interface is a definite upgrade to current FB experience. For brands and publishers, it is time to rethink their social marketing strategies in terms of the new Open Graph ideas and targeted content consumption.
After a brief lull, the social app market is surely going to heat up once more.