Monday, December 6, 2010

Facebook's New Profile Layout Promotes Educational Background, Demotes Your Microblog

Facebook will roll out a new profile redesign later today, which aims to give "a quick summary of who you are," and "give friends an easy way to see where you live now, where you're working and more." A collection of recently tagged photos is also pushed to the top of your profile page. To see what I mean, you can push the redesign through to your profile early by visiting this page.

While it's clean and useful from a pure usability standpoint (kudos to the new navigation bar on the left) - several important social implications are brought to bear in this new redesign. While I'm not sure what goes on internally, I think Facebook in general does an extremely poor job of investigating and considering the social impacts of their speedy agile redesigns, instead waiting for the consequences to emerge as the design is pushed into the billion-strong community, with often dangerous results. UI design involves tradeoffs and design choices reflect a company's values.

Here are some of the corporate values that seem to be represented by the redesign:

1. Who you are is where you went to college. According to Facebook, "who you are" is (in this order) where you went to college, where you live, and where you work. Facebook has been criticized previously for the way they distill a human being into a few bullet points, so it's interesting to consider what they prioritize as the most important attributes of a human being. I wonder why they chose to first identify you by your college pedigree - could it be their roots as an online college social connector? Or could it be the kind of people who work at Facebook and make these design decisions are the kind of people who first want to know where you went to school in order to judge where you fall in the social hierarchy?

2. Your most recent microblog is less important. Facebook demotes your most recent status update from the top of the page in favor of your biographic summary and most recently tagged photos. This is an interesting design decision and I wonder why it was made, because it decreases "newness" in one of the most prominent positions of the page. You can still locate recent microblogs within the Wall content, but it makes a strong value statement about the importance of user created content vs. demographics in Facebook's mind.

3. Your most recently tagged photos are more important than the content you created yourself. While Facebook is sure to inform those preoccupied with privacy concerns that you can easily remove photos from appearing in this stream, hypervigilence is necessary. You need to constantly monitor what photos you are getting tagged in, else that picture of you will appear in one of the most prominent places on your page. Again, these photos become a strong representation of "who you are" - in favor of content you created, shared, or cross-posted.