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Entries in User Interface (1)

Thursday
Apr072011

WTF, Facebook. W. T. F.

Ok, I'll admit it. I've come late to the whole Facebook thing. Very late. There are over 500 million active users spending over 700 billion minutes per month. I apparently make 500 million and one. But surely I'm not the only one who finds it confusing and hard to use, am I?

Let's face it. The user interface is just bad. It's confusing and messy. There's news feeds and status updates and profiles, and somewhere I apparently have a wall. Often these show similar subsets of the same information, and there's no clear division between what I see when I visit my own site, and what other people see when they visit me.

There seem to be a number of ways to communicate with other people. I've got messages. I can write on my own wall or on someone else's. I can even poke people. And there's no explanation about the differences between these, or why you might pick one over the other.

And then there's the profile. Facebook encouraged me to add interests, sports and other information. So I added the Beatles under music. Now I'm getting Beatles spam. I didn't realize I was signing up for some sort of message group. I just wanted to let the world know that, hey, All You Need is Love.

Then there's adding jobs or activities. Let's ignore the whole "is the match I found really what I was looking for" problem. Let's say I successfully add a hobby. Now there's a blank field labeled "with:". What in the world goes there?

Originally I thought I should enter an organization name. For example, you might study pottery with the Purple Cat Ceramic Studio. I tried that, and Facebook accepted my entry without comment or complaint, but appears to have simply ignored it. Given a little more thought and experimentation, I now assume I'm supposed to list the people I do the activity with. Maybe. Hmm.

Which brings me back to the problem of finding things. How do you find people. Searching by name doesn't work. Even if you have a very uncommon name, there's bound to be multiple matches. And don't even think about searching for John Smith.

The pictures and profiles aren't much help either. In the search view, the pictures are too small to really make out. And many people seem to use poor quality pictures, or pictures of ducks or something else that's less than truly helpful. Let's see. Is my old high school buddy John Smith a duck-person who likes bicycling? I guess that could be him?

Sure, there's always the "find friends" feature, but that just creeps me out. I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable letting Facebook root trough my email. And let's face it, if I have someone's email address, I'd probably just email them. If I'm looking for them on Facebook, it's because I have lost contact with them over the years.

And in some cases, even knowing the email doesn't work. I tried searching for my wife using both her name and her email. Nothing. She had to look me up and friend me.

Identity seems to work OK within the confines of Facebook world, but how do you pass links to people on the outside? URLs I guess, but the URL scheme is a mess. It doesn't contain any human-readable information.

Do you see what I mean? It's not just me, is it? I mean, I make my living programming computers. I'm a reasonably savvy tech guy. And I'm pulling out my hair in frustration here. Facebook is bad. It's just bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.

And yet, despite all of these problems, there's no denying that it is fantastically successful and popular. And that is what really interests me the most. How can something so poorly designed and organized become so beloved by so many?

Maybe it's a case of boiling the frog. Maybe these complications and confusions have built up slowly over time, layer upon layer. Long time users have had time to adjust to each new change. It's only shocking to newcomers like myself. But I doubt it. If that was the case, we should see a slow dwindling in Facebook's numbers, as it frightens away new users. That does not seem to be happening.

It could be the victory of function over appearance. Facebook is so useful as a communication tool that people put up with its rough edges. Maybe most people don't really care about good design or usability. Facebook works and that's enough. Or perhaps it shows the power of the social graph. Everyone uses Facebook, because everyone uses Facebook. If you leave, you're just cutting yourself off from the rest of your social group.

Those sound likely. But I think Facebook actually acts a lot like a drug. Something about it is undeniably addictive. I can feel it already sinking its claws into me. First you find a friend or two, and they connect you to other lost friends. Pretty soon, you're obsessively checking for any updates. Has my sixth-grade biology teacher accepted my friend request? If not, why not? Is he ignoring me? Maybe he's off on vacation, or his computer is in the repair shop. I should probably check Facebook again, just to be sure...

-Rich-