Facebook rolled out a series of enhancements to the user Profile page on Sunday that seemed design to increase “signal” in what has become an increasingly noisy environment.
Until now, the Profile has included basic information about a user: Their name, their hometown, schools they went to, the place where they work. In the new features, which will be gradually rolled out to the user base over the next few weeks, the Profile now includes the last five photos in which the user was tagged. “There’s often no better way to learn about a person than through photos,” writes engineer Josh Wiseman on the Facebook blog.
Users can also highlight specific groups of friends on their Profile. “I opted to feature my Ultimate Frisbee teammates, giving the rest of my friends a way to learn more about that part of my life,” Wiseman writes. And users can also list a wider variety of experiences. Under the Education and Work section, for example, you can list more than just the schools you’ve attended and the jobs you’ve had. You can also list meaningful projects you’ve worked on. And the top interests on your profile page will now appear as a row of images, instead of just text.
As Facebook becomes increasingly bloated with user-created content, it becomes easier for users to feel overwhelmed and view Facebook as a time suck. The enhancements seem designed to make it easier for users to find interesting content about each other–and keep them engaged. Facebook has always maintained it’s about connecting people and helping them stay in touch with the people they care about. The new features certainly will make it easier to do that. (Who wouldn’t rather just see their friends’ latest “status updates” as a series of photos rather than text?) It also creates the possibility for people to find new ways to engage with people they already know. If you were both a friend of Wiseman’s and an Ultimate player, discovering that he too plays Ultimate would give you one more thing to talk about with him.
And that can only help Facebook. Because as much as they focus on the goal of connecting people, they also have to worry about attrition. Facebook’s future profits rest on keeping users active–and keeping them serving up more details about themselves for advertisers to target. But the more bloated and overwhelming the service becomes, the more users will move to alternative solutions. At a conference recently, I recently overheard two stalwart members of the tech press commiserating about how “over” they were of Facebook–they were using it less and less. That’s precisely the sort of sharing Facebook aims to squelch with this redesign.
Meanwhile, back at Facebook HQ even more carefully constructed plans unfolded over the weekend: Mark Zuckerberg appeared on 60 Minutes just in time to reveal the new design, and tease data on the future of the world’s most popular social network. Unusually for Zuckerberg, who’s not been the slickest spokesman for the company, the entire interview went off fabulously–Forbes called it the “best piece of Facebook PR yet.” Zuck was even notably smiley, and tackled questions about The Social Network, commenting it was “interesting to see what parts they got right and what parts they got wrong” before laughingly adding “they got the sandals right.”
Has Facebook’s executive team put Mark through some intensive PR training after his sweaty appearance on AllThingsD earlier this year? It’s possible. They didn’t teach him to be very politically savvy however, as when quizzed “is the goal for you to conquer the Internet, to own the whole Internet?” Mark tried a dodge, but then waffled the “true goal” of the site is to help the rest of the Net improve their offerings. Hmmm. Check out some of the footage in the clip below:
Additional contributions from Kit Eaton.