Total Pageviews

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Test Run: Facebook’s New News Feed

Facebook is finally learning the same lesson that all media empires must eventually grasp: For people who consume their content, less is often more.

On Thursday, the company announced a major overhaul of its News Feed that makes content larger and more visually appealing. I had an opportunity to try out the new News Feed, which feels clean and well-designed.

As I’ve noted in the past, if you picked up a copy of The New York Times 100 years ago, you would see a messy front page with more than 50 news headlines. Now, the front page of the newspaper has six stories and a couple of large photos.

Now it’s Facebook’s turn to simplify.

Rather than being greeted by a waterfall f tiny photos and dozens of sporadic links on the News Feed, you will now be shown large photos and lots of flowing white space on the site. This allows each post to breath a little, rather than feel claustrophobic like it did in the past.

In the top right corner, there is now an option to see content-specific feeds, so your News Feed can change from a mishmash of everything as it flows in, to just the posts your friends have shared or groups you might follow. You can also dig in to see posts by genre, like those that only contain a photos or music.

Some of the content-specific channels don’t work that well. When I chose to see only posts by people in San Francisco, Calif., I saw all of the people’s posts that live in the area, but none of the updates actually had anything to do with San Francisco.

One of the goals with the redesign of the Web site was to create a more ! consistent experience between mobile and the Web. Designing a Web site and apps that can translate between a 4-inch screen and an extra-large computer monitor is not simple. But Facebook seems to have done a stellar job with this challenge.

However, in the process of focusing on multiple devices, the company seems to have broken the consistency between the News Feed and people’s profile pages on Facebook.

Before Thursday’s redesign, images in the News Feed were mostly square, and often the same size as those that appear on people’s profile pages. In the new version, images are much larger and rectangular, although the old profile pages still look the same. Bouncing between the two experiences can feel pretty jarring.

Ads seem to sit directly on the right of the screen, much like the past design. Though it is unclear how Facebook is going to use the new design to highlight ponsored posts. As Facebook’s algorithm decides what people see, it could run into trouble if customers become frustrated by large sponsored ads consuming most of their screen.

Either way, the new look is another signal that design is becoming one of the most important factors in technology. Sometimes companies like Facebook have gone into the past to learn that.