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Facebook’s “FB5” is cleaner and Groups-centric (but not much more private)

The fifth major revision of Facebook isn’t introducing the privacy focus Mark Zuckerberg touted at F8.

Facebook’s “FB5” is cleaner and Groups-centric (but not much more private)
[Video: courtesy of Facebook]

Here at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg devoted most of his keynote to emphasizing that the company really cares about privacy—though he acknowledges that some will be skeptical—and is working on end-to-end encryption, ephemerality, and other features that will keep users’ data from prying eyes (including those at Facebook itself). Those changes are going to take a while, he said.

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In the meantime, Zuckerberg also introduced what he says is the fifth major version of Facebook—hence its code name, “FB5.” Encompassing both the mobile apps and browser-based incarnation of the service, it’s “the biggest change to the Facebook app and website we’ve made in five years,” he said.

Like many a refresh of a venerable offering, FB5 is in part about stripping away interface cruft and replacing it with white space in the interest of easier readability. In the case of Facebook, that means that the big blue bar that’s been a defining element for years—and led the company to refer to its namesake service as “the big blue app”—is gone. “The app isn’t even blue anymore,” Zuckerberg said.

[Image: courtesy of Facebook]
Beyond the more streamlined look, FB5 emphasizes Facebook’s Groups feature, which is currently used by 400 million people; “Groups are at the heart of your experience,” said Zuckerberg. There’s a new Groups tab and a Group-recommending tool, and the app will recommend groups in more places—such as if you’re watching a show with a group of its own. New technology will aim to make such suggestions feel relevant rather than random. Zuckerberg also emphasized that Facebook continues to work to shut down groups that are dedicated to spreading false information.

FB5 also adds some features tailored to particular types of groups, such as tools that let employers post job listings and a chat feature for gaming-related groups. Facebook only highlighted one all-new FB5 feature intended to enhance privacy: Health groups will offer a feature that lets users ask an administrator to post an item anonymously, allowing them to broach sensitive topics more comfortably. It’s also making it easier to segue into a private conversation from a group.

Other minor updates: You can now save your spot in Facebook’s News Feed and the web version of the service has a dark mode. The Dating feature now has a “Secret Crush” option, letting you express an anonymous interest in up to nine friends who have opted into Facebook Dating—which provoked the F8 audience to emit what sounded like a giggle/groan and, at first blush, sounds out of sync with a new emphasis on privacy.

Given the grandiosity of Zuckerberg’s new privacy-centric vision—and the fact that Facebook hasn’t released the history-cleaner tool it announced a year ago—any version of the service that introduces no fundamental change to its privacy model feels unfinished. But as the company points out, an awful lot of groups are private or even secret. So its newfound effort to encourage people to interact more in groups rather than sharing with their own friends and family is, by itself, a subtle shift toward a less predominantly public Facebook.

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The Facebook app is getting its FB5 update today. The new features will roll into the browser-based version within the next few months, Zuckerberg said.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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