Why you need to stop complaining about Facebook’s redesign (hint: it’s a big improvement)

Absolutely true story: an acquaintance of mine was in a water cooler conversation and overheard someone comment that Facebook had undergone a new round of changes. His immediate response: “I HATE when Facebook does that! They change just because they can and won’t leave alone something that isn’t broken.”

He was quick to bash Facebook for something he hadn’t even yet laid eyes upon. It’s become the fad thing to do to start up the hate mail campaign against Facebook even if they just move a button one pixel to the left. Few people take a moment to consider that the changes may actually be a significant improvement—which is the case of the September 2011 changes. Here’s why.

Facebook has to update its interface from time to time. If it doesn’t, it becomes stagnant and irrelevant. Stagnancy kills a brand, and Facebook knows this. There’s a looming threat to the Facebook brand, and its name is Google+.

Facebook’s bottom line is to make money—not to blindly appease users with its interface. Advertisers pay the bills, and if Facebook users leave in droves to start using Google+ instead, that’s lost revenue.

Clearly, Facebook must keep tabs on what the Google+ appeal is and come up with a way to provide the same—if not better—appeal for its own users.

What did Facebook find? Circles. Okay, the answer may be more complicated than a single word, but a simplistic response to why people like Google+ better is Circles.

Guess what. The very thing that entices people to Google+ is the very thing Facebook incorporated into the latest update. The only difference is that Facebook isn’t using a cool, catchy, hip, jargon name for it. Observe:

Google+ Circles = Facebook Lists

That’s right. Lists. That’s the big new addition that’s getting everyone into a fit. What Facebook has done is address the popularity of Circles and implemented its own version.

What’s so great about Circles? They allow Google+ users to catch up on content posted only from people in those Circles. Likewise, a user can post content which only those in specified circles can view. It sounds like a generous amount of privacy control on the part of Google+.

Facebook Lists are the exact same thing. You can add whomever you like into various Lists and then choose a List to filter News Feed content only from those people. Likewise, when you post a photo or a status update, etc., you can specify that only desired Lists can see that content.

The only area where I feel Facebook missed the mark is addressing the two permanent, self-populating Circles in Google+. One represents every friend connection, and the other, Extended Circles, represents all friend connections plus friends connected to those friends. Observe:

Google+ Extended Circles = Facebook Friends of Friends.

If you’re missing that “Most Recent” function previously at the top of Facebook’s News Feed, you can restore it by creating a new List and putting all your friends into it. Call it All, or All Friends, or even Most Recent if that helps you.

The only caveat to this comes for those with hundreds of friends (or more) such as myself. Creating a List and manually adding all my friends into it is a daunting task.

Advantage: Google+.

But I’m certainly not stopping with a Google+ advantage. Not before pointing out that Facebook’s implementation of Circles…er, I mean, Lists…is actually better than Google+ Circles. Those Circles only manage groupings of people. I haven’t yet found a convenient way to browse only photos that all my friends have posted to Google+. This is one of my favorite ways for browsing Facebook. It’s possible to filter the News Feed to only see everyone’s photos, or only links, or only notes, etc. I don’t find this capability on Google+.

Advantage: Facebook.

Let’s get this straight. Facebook updated itself to offer a feature that was one of the biggest draws for Google+ and improved upon it by providing a means to not only filter people, but also filter content—and everyone’s upset about it.

Hrmm. Yeah. Stop that.

What’s the best way to take advantage of this improvement? In the left column of the News Feed page are various links grouped into categories. At the top of this column is a category named Favorites. Every link within all the other categories may be moved into the Favorites.

Look for the category named Lists. This is where you’ll find the equivalent of Google+ Circles. Hover any desired List, click the edit pencil that appears to the left, then click the popup menu item to add that List to Favorites.

If you don’t see a List that should be there, click the More link that will appear next to the category header when your mouse is hovered in that region. You’ll see a page with every List that has been created, each with the same edit pencil that allows you to move that List to your Favorites.

Suppose, like me, you enjoyed skimming through the News Feed while it’s filtered to only show Photos. Head to the Apps category in that left column. Repeat the above process for Lists to add desired Apps to your Favorites. You can also add Groups, Pages, and Games to your Favorites.

To put your Favorites in a more logical order, click an edit pencil icon next to any of the favorites, select Rearrange, then move them around as desired.

Notice this: prior to the redesign, in order to view a filtered News Feed of only photos, it was a three-click process. Generally, by default, the News Feed loaded with Top Posts activated. So, I first had to click Most Recent at the top of the feed. Next, I had to click Most Recent a second time to access a popup menu. Finally, a third click to select Photos.

Accessing a filtered News Feed of photos is now just a one-click process! If I’ve added Photos from the Apps category in the left column to my Favorites, all I have to do is click it from the Favorites list, and I’m immediately viewing all recent photo posts.

Advantage: Facebook.

By the way, the former Most Recent viewing mode, which many people think the lost after the redesign, is what you’ll get if you create the aforementioned List of All Friends. Just select it from the Favorites to view a News Feed of everyone’s latest posts.

So, what about that live-updating list of activity on the right side? The complaint I hear is, why have the duplication of updates there as well as from the main feed in the middle column? That’s just a rip-off of Twitter.

Yes, that’s sort of true. But that live feed can actually be very useful, especially since it stays put even while you’re scrolling through the News Feed.

Suppose you’ve got your main feed set up like I often do, only displaying Photos. The live feed on the right would let you keep tabs on what people are doing right now while still browsing photos. Or, even if the main feed is displaying all activity, suppose you’ve scrolled down and are looking at posts from many hours (or even days) ago. The live feed is still there giving you a heads up of what’s getting added to the top of the main feed.

For the third time, Advantage: Facebook.

In closing, I’ll touch on a change Facebook made prior to the recent big change with Lists and Favorites. By default, Facebook no longer sends you an e-mail notification on a wide range of activity. Facebook touted this as a positive change in that it reduced e-mail inbox clutter by offering summary e-mails instead of individual messages for every notification.

It’s no surprise that Facebook wishes to keep as much activity on the web site as possible rather than e-mail. There’s lots of advertising revenue generated by visiting the site. But here’s another consideration: just imagine how many e-mails were generated every minute…nay, every second, of every day. That’s a lot of strain on an e-mail server. By making this change, Facebook instantly relieved a substantial amount of that strain, enabling the server to be more efficient.

But what about those who, like my wife, primarily keep up with Facebook messages and responses to posts via the e-mail notifications? Good news, they weren’t eliminated, only deactivated. You can turn them back on. While you’re at it, it’s a good time to prune exactly what types of notifications get e-mailed to you.

Start by clicking the small, downward-pointing triangle in the upper right corner of the blue bar. Select Account Settings. Then, on the left, select Notifications. At the top of the resulting page, uncheck the selection in the gray E-mail Frequency box. After that, scroll down the page to the All Notifications section and click the Edit link on each category of notifications. Enable or disable the checkbox next to each individual notification for which you do or do not want to receive by e-mail.

So there you have it. You’re now informed and can move on. From now on, remember to give a good look at what Facebook has changed before complaining about it. You may actually like what you see!

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