Wednesday, March 18, 2009


In September 2008, Facebook — which has effectively taken the place of MySpace as the medium of choice for groups, activists, and students, having risen from obscurity as an exclusive college network — imposed what would be the first of two highly controversial page design changes. Last month, it had added to its résumé of customer service mishaps by releasing a set of terms and conditions that, by stating that any material would remain on the servers even if the person who posted them withdrew them from the social networking site, gave the impression that Facebook was taking as property everything its users said or displayed on the site; these terms were later suspended and, after a user referendum, discarded entirely.

Now, the issue lies in a drastic change made to the page layouts, mainly the home page, which no longer offers a simplified feed of what your friends are doing, instead relying on photos and wall posts for fodder. (Facebook for iPhone, at last update, still offers a simplified feed.) In the bid to perfect the site to make it more attractive or engaging than, say, MySpace or Twitter, the development team seems to have forgotten that the only reason people stayed there was because it wasn't MySpace or Twitter. To me, the fact that its prohibition of website layout and colour changes by the user qualifies it as better than MySpace on any occasion, but with only 25,000 members approving the change against 333,000 against the change (and more hype in the previous, wholesale makeover) as of writing, Facebook ought to learn from the 4chan message boards and change only when the community clearly benefits from it (4chan had a new home page go live in 2007, but the thread format, which remains its distinguishing feature for its quick-and-dirtiness, has never changed).

To allay the assumption that I'm wholeheartedly joining an asinine bandwagon, there are two points I need to make. The first is that I approved of the previous design change. The design it bore when it first went public was clunky and bore the marks of early attempts at dynamic effects on television (closing logos, anyone?). The second is that change is human and natural, but only when moderated. There are people out there, like me, who will resist widespread or otherwise perceptible change, and there are others who believe that change is an adventure.

In Web design, the quandaries are new W3C regulations, popular demand, the addition of new features, and — this is the big one — time. Despite its roaring success, Facebook has only been public for three years, having spent two in restriction to college and university students and staff, so in Web terms it's still an infant., on the other hand, was on the Web for eight years without drastic design change before a new design went live; the members mutinied. Personally, I forgive both — for Facebook, nobody gets it right the first time; for Fark...come on, the three-column quick-and-dirty is for the...well...quick-and-dirty.

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