Things I Like About the Facebook Interface

There’s a lot to dislike about the Facebook user experience. The groups capabilities are pretty anemic, for example. And don’t even get me started about making me go to a web page to respond to a private message. But I am finding some clever aspects that are worth emulating too. In particular, there is some subtle and clever work around subscription management. For example, if I comment on a photograph that somebody has posted, I am automatically subscribed to the comment stream for that photo. I have entered the conversation, and the system infers that I want to be kept abreast of it. There is nothing explicit in the user interface for this. I never had to click on “subscribe to comments” anywhere. The system figures out what I want from the actions I take.I suppose the danger of this approach is that the system will infer incorrectly and I will have no way to fix it as an end user, but so far that has not happened to me yet. I’m guessing this is because Facebook sets a fairly well-defined social context and that its designers can therefore make pretty good guesses about what people will want to have happen within that context. This sort of inferential system response is worth further thought, particularly in areas such as subscriptions and permissions, where explicit management by the users can become overwhelming very quickly. 

Another thing I like is the “see more of” or “see less of” type features in the status updates. Sometimes I get friend requests from people I don’t know and have never heard of. Because I am now a quasi-public figure (aren’t well all?), I tend to accept these requests. But while I don’t mind these strangers listening in on the public stream of my daily life (even if I don’t quite understand why they would find it interesting), I don’t necessarily want to know what they are doing in their daily lives. So I appreciate having the ability, when a status update from a person I don’t know appears on my screen, to select the option to “see less about” that person in the future. Likewise, if I really like videos, I can choose to see more posted videos in the future. These features works well, in part, because the updates posted in Facebook are mostly casual and non-essential news items. It’s hard to see how a “see fewer homework assignments” would be such a good idea in an LMS interface, for example. But the general idea of adding accessible and coarse-grained (and therefore intuitive) controls (not “show me 30% of this person’s updates” but “show me less about this person”) is also an interesting one that is worth exploring further.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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7 Responses to Things I Like About the Facebook Interface

  1. ez says:

    A Facebook Page might address your fan problem. Though I’d image celebs have agents or an agency to manage it for them.

  2. Wow. I never really thought of myself as having a “fan problem.” Thanks for the ego boost.

    But really, it isn’t so much of a problem. As long as I can turn down the volume via the Facebook controls, I’m fine with it. I have completely given up trying to separate my work life 2.0 from my social life 2.0. It’s just not possible, given my line of work.

  3. Mike O. says:

    One aspect I find a bit disconcerting about the inferential system permissions is the way it deals with photos. Out-of-the-box, FB photo albums are shared with “friends of friends”. If one of my Friends comments on the photo of someone I am not Friends with, then not only do I get access to that picture, but the entire photo album.

    This is a larger issue of permissions awareness (I suspect 90% of FB users have never even looked at the permission settings), but it’s still a little disconcerting nonetheless.

    I do agree, however, that being subscribed to the comment feed is neat.

  4. Huh. I did not know that. What they are trying to accomplish is tricky and rife with potential pitfalls.

  5. Tomo says:

    This is a soft WYSIWYG UI implementation of managing stream of content.

    Please consider some subcultures associated with this generation aren’t so much concerned with tuning in than being tuned into so the concept of allowing an audience to follow a certain stream is desirable, especially if it’s mediated by technology.

    Michael you mention the social context is already set, Mike O mentions the photo album, I think this also has to be taken in context. These are events your ‘friends’ have been at, so the logic follows if I went to a party and a friend or 2 in the photo also did, maybe I know the other people in the album, I may have been there in person, or having missed the party want to see what went on. Maybe subjects just want to be seen. This makes it no less valid when examining application…

    Which might be a good lesson for those involved with learning technologies: using technology to enhance participation (or participatory perception).

    I think regardless of how you like facebook or what your opinion of the experience is – statistics seem to be that faceblob averages high rate of both time spent and time active on the site when compared to other top websites on the net – the entire net.

    Of course, there will always be some kids will not pay attention to the lesson but the other people’s clothes :P

  6. Interesting read.

    This “see more of” or “see less of” feature of Facebook is something I was earlier in the new redesign, but now it’s seems to have fallen by the waveside… or have I just lost site of it?

    Thanks for posting!

  7. Tings like Dat says:

    Has FB now removed the invaluable “See more/less of” feature?

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