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September 10, 2008

If You Whine At Facebook’s Redesign: Calm Down!

SO, ONLY MOMENTS AFTER I finally tried out the new Facebook yesterday, I came across this item on Gawker (via siblog Valleywag): “700,000 Facebook users join ‘I hate the new Facebook’ page.” And all I could think is, all of those magazines that have gone through redesigns over the years are lucky they didn’t have social media around to let readers tell them what they really thought.

I also thought, “What a bunch of whiners!” There were complaints about the redesign seeming “big” because it appears to employ a larger font size. (Hey, wait ’til your eyes go through the change of life, pal). Others were that all the tabs — an attempt on the part of the Facebook people to declutter the page, I’d suspect — were making Facebook slow to load. That was not my experience.

As I did spend a little quality time trying to see if there was an equally robust “I Love the new Facebook” group, I found that most groups that fit that search term were mocking the redesign, claiming the reason they liked it was because it’s “creepy” and makes it easier to stalk people. As I don’t have time for stalking, alas, I didn’t really delve into why.

But getting back to all those redesigned magazines over the years, I think the biggest problem with the new Facebook is that it’s different than the old Facebook. People tend not to like different, at least at first. Old designs, be they in static old print or online, tend to be easier simply because we’re used to seeing things organized in certain ways; not necessarily that those ways are better. As a veteran of both print and online organizations, I try really hard to give designers of these huge redesigns the benefit of the doubt.

For me, the new Facebook is a mixed bag. My favorite feature is probably “The Publisher,” a toolbar high up on Facebook that makes it far easier to share links, photos and other content. I always felt that with the old Facebook it was surprisingly hard to share a link, and that I was always indulging in a lot of errant clicks between me and sharing. As we are now deep into the Twitter era, it’s also cool to see individual updates be front and center on the page, though I agree that perhaps bold, 14-point type isn’t exactly necessary.

The small thumbnail ads have been moved from the lefthand side of the page to the righthand side, which from a reading-from-left-to-right world view probably makes them even less obtrusive. Might not play as well in China. And here’s the biggest change, and one I support simply because I want Facebook to make money somehow: there are actually two ads down the column instead of the usual one.

To some, this makes Facebook the new MySpace — but c’mon people, go back to MySpace for a sec and remind yourself how commercial it is. It’s no contest. Facebook is still one of the least ad-saturated sites on the Web.

My biggest beef is in how apps are displayed and how that will affect advertisers who want to build the ultimate Facebook app. On my old Facebook page, the apps were buried at the bottom of an increasingly long page. In the new Facebook, they seem to be sequestered behind a tab called “Boxes,” though the redesign also allows users to create specific tabs for specific applications. Seems to me, and to some of the whiners, that no one will ever bother to go and discover these apps, and that’s a damn shame for app lovers, and advertisers, everywhere. The counterargument, as one of my many Facebook friends pointed out, is that the old design suffered from apps overload.

But, ultimately I quibble. I’m sure the new Facebook redesign, as different as it is than the old Facebook, is a work in progress. I’m also sure that the people at Facebook will listen to user complaints. But even before it officially launches, it’s time for the people who hate the new Facebook — and anyone at Facebook who is getting all tied up in their underwear over the complaints — to calm down. Give it some time. At least parts of it will grow on you.

Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. She currently writes daily about advertising on her blog, and can be reached at