history, privacy & facebook

history

If you look at all social networks & websites today, history doesn’t appear to be very important. The odd time i’ll stumble across a news article from 1995 or something but that’s about it. Wikipedia probably does the best job of summarising history and documenting it online but even in the online age (let’s say from 1995 up until present day), we do a terrible job of organising and making history available…

Frustration

For me, youtube is one the most frustrating sites to browse through. I know it has every video i want and more but if i can’t find them with keyword searches, then i can’t find them, period. Take youtube’s music section. They rank the most popular top 20 music videos which rarely change. Adele’s ‘someone like you’ and Nicki Minaj’s ‘superbass’ will probably still be on that list in a years time because the rich get richer in terms of views & popularity.

daily top 100

Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back in time to 2004 and check out the top 40 music videos from that time? Or 1995? Ok, youtube wasn’t around then, but videos were… youtube just need to organise videos by date taken, not date uploaded. Or let the community organise them…

That is the ‘future’ for online navigation – it has to be… otherwise we just keep living in the here and now and forgetting about the past or hoping the quality rises to the top… ‘wasting’ a lot of good historical data. The here and now is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Organised historical data will always be of greater quality and importance than the mass of current ‘noise’…  If data online increases exponentially year on year, that means we’ve more noise online than ever before so the here and now will always be difficult to manage and organise, but the past shouldn’t be.

This is where the timeline comes in

This is why Facebook’s new timeline feature is such a significant development. It’s not the fact they’ve added a timeline feature –  timelines are nothing new online but they’ve really only been used up until now for novelty purposes e.g. documenting the 9/11 events or perhaps football matches. Putting a timeline front of shop as the main navigation tool for the world’s largest social network is a huge risk from Facebook’s point of view…  they’re basically asking us to rethink how we approach social networking and document memories as opposed to focusing solely on the ‘here and now’.

I’ve spent a lot time mulling over every single detail of this new facebook profile, mainly because i have to in order to keep up with social networking trends, which is an area i’ll be diving in to shortly, but also out of curiosity. I’m no UI expert but here’s what i’ve found…

Warmth

Facebook have added a light blue background to the profile which in my opinion adds warmth to the profile page compared to a white background. By changing the background colour, they’ve been forced in to making content areas white (because people like reading text on a white background), so they’ve placed content in ‘blocks’ which helps to add definition and clarity to every single update. The ‘wall’ has basically been scraped in favour of a wider, more fragmented wall with gaps in it.

facebook design

Navigation

Having a navigation menu on the top right of a page goes against any UI / web design stuff i’ve ever read and studied. But that’s exactly where Facebook have put their timeline. Why? I’m still not sure… it could be because moving it over to the left would mean they’d have to move ads over there too (they only have 3 columns to play with)… moving it to the left would also mean it’d be the first thing you see (before the profile photo or user’s name), so that wouldn’t good either… they couldn’t drop it to the left below the new about / info box because it would be too far down the screen plus it would upset the symmetry of the new timeline ‘columns’ (which are equal in width).

As you scroll down the page, the navigation system stays in place on the screen (along with ads) which does one of two things. Firstly, it increases the chances you’ll notice ads and click on them. Secondly it means you know where you are in somebody’s timeline all the time, because it’s highlighted constantly. It’s a safe place – i know if i want to get back to the top i can click on the ‘now’ button. It’s not a natural position for a navigation menu but then again this is Facebook – we’ll go looking for navigation menus because they’re one of very few sites who can break the rules constantly, piss us all off and still be guaranteed our eyeballs.

I think what facebook want us to use as a navigation tool is the scroll wheel on our mouse – the navigation menu on the top right is a token gesture because they’re snookered in to putting it there, not because that’s the best place for it.

Less emphasis on ‘whats on your mind’?

I feel with the new profile pages, facebook have placed less emphasis on the ‘what’s on your mind / write something’ textbox. It’s lower down the page than it was previously, it’s not as wide as it was previously and because the old wall is now effectively two columns, it doesn’t take centre stage, above all other comments & activity.

facebook design

On the flip side, it’s moved right over to the left of the page, flush against the side so maybe Facebook reckon it’s quicker to access or in a more natural position… but my gut tells me it doesn’t stand out and there are possibly a few reasons why facebook would deliberately place less emphasis on this and give other stuff more prominence…

I know i never leave anyone a comment on their profile page. I @reply them on my own facebook homepage. I generally comment on activity too rather than create a conversation from scratch. E.g. if someone shares a video, i may comment on that…. creating a conversation from scratch is hard work and requires much more thought and effort imo than commenting on stuff that’s already been created. Maybe Facebook agree that the ability to leave comments (on profile pages) isn’t as important as it once was…

Thought facebook places was dead?

Facebook places had been written off by many social media commentators but it would appear Facebook have tried to spark life in to it yet again with the latest profile change. On everyone’s profile is a ‘map’ thumbnail image of the places you’ve checked in to. Just seeing it there makes me want to start using Facebook places. I usually check in to places (if i think of it) on foursquare but if facebook get the whole historical organisation right, facebook places could yet prove to be a dark horse.

facebook design

Privacy responsibility starts and ends with the user, not Facebook.

One thing that’s starting to annoy me, yet again, is that these latest changes Facebook are making are being seen as some kind of evil data collection exercise by Facebook to make more money. Let’s be clear, that’s exactly what these changes are intended to do and that’s what they will do, but they’re not evil.

facebook design

It’s not as if Facebook are going to sell your address and personal info to hitmen… which is the type of sensationalist tone the media take. Facebook want to serve you ads that you’ll be interested in. They want to make money out of you and unless they run a hitman business on the side that nobody knows about, ads is the only way they know how…

I have no problem whatsoever with that, in fact that’s what i *want* as a user. I know i’m going to see ads when i’m using a free service online so i’d much rather see ads that interest me rather than ads for teeth whitening products or magic weight loss pills. The way i see it, it benefits everyone… me, facebook & the advertiser. Do i think it’s ‘right’ how Facebook gather data? No, but what am i going to do about it? Nothing, because it’s of no interest to me like the majority of Facebook users.

Protecting your data isn’t Facebook’s job, it’s your job as a user. If you don’t want people getting your phone number, don’t give it to them. If you don’t want your bank account details to be found, don’t set up a bank account or shred all your statements and don’t use online banking. Worried about credit card being stolen? Don’t use it. Don’t go near an ATM or buy anything with it in a shop. There could be skimming devices there. Hidden cameras.

The point i’m making is that we all take a certain degree of risk when we use a credit card or add a bit of personal info online. You can take that small risk and benefit from the service, convenience and improved lifestyle you get, or you can not take the risk and be 100% confident nobody is gonna get your credit card details or personal data. You can’t have it both ways… to think you can is being naive and shifting the potential risk and blame on to somebody else’s shoulders.

Think worst case scenario

If you post something online that you don’t want to be made public, you’re trusting a third party. Sure, you expect and assume there’ll be security in place, especially if it’s a big reputable site, but you must fear the worst if you’re publishing data online that could come back to haunt you if it were to get in to the wrong hands.

If Facebook were to leak email addresses and passwords tomorrow, what would happen? How would you react? Me, i’d probably leave but i’d understand that ultimately i’m responsible for all content on my facebook. If i added my phone number & life story there, well i should have known better. That was the risk i took when i signed up and when i published /saved that stuff. Trust no-one and you end up isolated, trust everyone and you get taken advantage of eventually, so there’s always a need for balance and perspective.

It would appear that as the web (or facebook) gets more open, more and more people start to get suspicious or worried. Perhaps a natural reaction but if people have data so important and private that it’s on their facebook, then they must question their own personal attitudes and policies towards privacy, not Facebook’s. The buck must stop with the user, or at least that’s how the user should think – ‘worst case scenario’.

cristiano ronaldo
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ricardo Machado – design e ilustração

If Facebook were on a football pitch, it’d be Ronaldo. Loved, hated, undoubtedly talented & incredibly valuable but frustrating to watch and play with at the same time. He can only function with a team around him however, winning the ball and retaining it, feeding him possession. Facebook users are the rest of the team, the data is the ball… give the ball to ronaldo and he could take on 5 men and score or he could be careless and give it away inside his own box by trying to be too fancy. You could just not give him the ball at all but nobody can do what he does. He can make magic happen. Google+ may be on the pitch now too but he has yet to prove himself and to give Google+ the ball just because you don’t like Ronaldo isn’t being a team player. Google+ needs to earn the right to get the ball based on his own skill & merits.

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