I’ve always appreciated an old bumper sticker, which was particularly popular and relevant during the Bush (Jr.) years: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”. When I think about Facebook, a variation on that theme comes to mind: “If you like Facebook’s user interface, you’re not paying attention”. In this article, I’ll explore five important design flaws in Facebook’s user experience and comment briefly on how Google+ deals with each.
You’ve entered a status update and sometime later realize it contains an error. You now have two choices, neither of which is very satisfying: delete and re-create the update (in which case you lose any accumulated comments/likes/etc.) or comment on your own update with an awkward, after-the-fact correction. Why can’t I simply click an edit button and fix my update?
The only counter-argument I can imagine is that someone could change an update after others have commented on or liked the original version, which could be abused in various ways. But we already face that pitfall in many places. For example, I can post an article on this blog, gather comments on the original version and then deceptively update my post later. Thankfully, blog software designers understood that preventing a small minority of people from abusing a feature doesn’t justify denying valuable functionality to all users. [Google+ got this right - status updates (and comments!) can be edited any time, even after they've been posted.]
Facebook has its own independent messaging system, separate from any existing email system. This means that the email system I know and love, which has all kinds of great features (e.g. it does good things with conversation threads, it’s tightly integrated with my mobile device, etc.), along with years of my previous correspondence, is unusable within Facebook. This also means I end up with conversations being recorded in two different places. When I want to find an old message, I need to figure out whether it was part of a conversation that took place on gmail or Facebook. I may end up having to search both sites to find an item of interest.
In addition, Facebook’s messaging system lacks some basic functionality. The ability to forward a message was added only recently. Have you noticed that a message originally sent to a group can’t be replied to individually? Any replies go to all original recipients, whether you like it or not. And have you noticed there’s no notion of separate conversations or threads – every message is part of a never ending conversation with that particular recipient. [Email in Google+ appears to defer to your home email address/system. That's precisely how it should be - I already have an email service I'm happy with and I don't want my social networking services trying to duplicate or subsume that function.]
Pop quiz: go to facebook.com and see if you can figure out how to block a friend (not unfriend them, just hide their updates from your news feed). Let’s see, “Friends”, then “Manage Friend list”, then…nope. OK, how about “Profile”, then “Friends”, nope. Let’s try “Account”, then “Edit Friends”, no, that’s not it. After googling “hide a friend on facebook”, I found the answer. Facebook is full of such navigational challenges. [Based on my usage so far, I'd say that Google+ offers much more intuitive navigation and organization.]
Have you noticed how facebook keeps introducing new features that affect how your news feed looks, or worse, how much of your personal information is shared with others? Most of us find out about these changes through a friend’s status update that usually goes something like this: “Hey everyone, I just found out Facebook changed our default setting for X to Y. Here’s how to undo that change.” Much has been written about Facebook’s track record in this area. This graphic makes the point more clearly than any words I can add here. [I don't have enough experience yet with Google+ to assess their treatment of privacy and opt-in vs. opt-out policies.]
Have you ever tried to find an old status update on Facebook? Here’s how it generally goes: click on username, scroll, scroll, scroll, click “older posts”, scroll, scroll, scroll, click “older posts” again, die of boredom. Is there any reason I can’t enter a search string to find my (or another user’s) old updates? [I don't see a way to search for old updates on Google+ either so this appears to be a shortcoming on both services. I'm interested to see which service adds this first. I'm starting my stopwatch now...Ready, set, go!]