Substantive changes have been made to Facebook, and at first glance it looks like an improvement. I’ve spent the last week or so experimenting with the developers’ release of Facebook timeline to get a sense of what’s new, and what works. With this update going Facebook-wide at the end of this week (September 30, 2011), here are a few things that caught my eye.
Unbalanced three-column view: Before, we were faced with a three-column view, each column given roughly one third of the page, that featured left-navigation with your content in the middle and advertisements on the right. Your content, and daily interactions were concentrated in the centre and only given about 40% of the screen. The new timeline layout expands the content section and drastically reduces the emphasis given to navigation and advertisements.
When I first saw the layout I thought “Where are the ads?” and it took me a little while to notice they are now much smaller and tucked away in the bottom corner on the right-side of the page.
The timeline: A logical design move, with a long memory. Not only can you interact with latest and popular news from others, but you can also easily “creep” your own content by scrolling back through your timeline. You won’t just see the posts and friends you have made over the years; the timeline uses much of the other information you have trusted to Facebook to extend your timeline back to the day you were born. It’s fun to see what you were up to a few years ago, what music you were listening to, and how disappointed you were when the Toronto Maple Leafs lost.
I also like the “featured post option” in the timeline. You can now give certain items greater visual prominence while hiding others. Just click that little star in the corner of one of your posts and you can feature the items you think will be of most interest to your friends.
The cover: This spot for a large photo at the top of your profile is the first thing you will notice. My initial reaction to seeing this big, open area, was “this is great!” Then I quickly thought…”what the heck am I going to put there?” You can choose to display a photo that is currently in one of your albums, or you can upload a new one.
Be careful what photos you choose to include as your cover. If you use one of the previously uploaded photos you have shared with just friends, the privacy settings are automatically changed to public. If you are designing something custom for this space, 1030px x 380px is your best bet for sizing.
Surrender more personal information: Now with a couple of clicks you can easily share many more personal details. They are now asking for information about when a loved one died, when you got your driver’s licence, when you bought a home, when you broke your arm, when you had surgery, when you completed your military service, etc.
I chuckle each time I see these fields come into play, but knowing this type of information is important for Facebook. With these details, advertisers can now display better ads that are most likely to be of interest to you. Improving the success of these ads helps to keep Facebook free. Before I surrender any information to my social networks, I always ask myself “How does sharing this information enhance my experience?” If I don’t have a good answer, I often pass.