I've not always been happy about the changes Facebook has made over the years, but I like its update of the News Feed, which the company announced and started rolling out this week.
The new News Feed is less cluttered and more graphically appealing. And it gives special prominence to photographs, which now represent about half of all posts in the feed.
I don't think Facebook has gone so far as to create a "personalized newspaper," as CEO Mark Zuckerberg dubbed the new feed, and I worry about how Facebook will fit ads into the new design. But overall it's a welcome refresh.
For Facebook users, the News Feed is essentially their home page on the site. It shows the latest updates from friends, posts from companies and organizations they've "liked," and pictures and links that friends have shared.
Over the years, that page has grown increasingly cluttered. As Facebook has become more popular, the number of friends in users' social networks has expanded and so too has the number of pages they've liked, resulting in what can be an overwhelming number of posts feeding into the News Feed.
Facebook has attempted to sort through the links, showing only those that are most important to users, but the News Feed still often looks like a cluttered list of updates, not much better than what you see on Twitter.
The update aims to clean this up and make it more appealing. Photographs appear to be twice as large as before. To devote more room to pictures, Facebook is now superimposing users' initial comments about the pictures on top of them.
But the News Feed is also devoting more room to other graphical elements, including videos, the thumbnail images Facebook typically includes next to links to news stories, and maps, when someone shares their location.
It doesn't exactly resemble a newspaper, but a lot of attention to graphical design went into the update. It's such an improvement that I wish Facebook had more fully embraced a newspaper style by creating a photo-centric "front page" for each user focusing on a small number of the most relevant updates, instead of sticking with the endless scrolling list.
But the update involves more than just bigger pictures and graphics. Facebook now lets users sift more easily through the posts in their feed. They can choose to view only posts that include photographs, for example, or only updates from people or organizations they follow. Better yet, those who fret that Facebook filters out too many posts when it picks and chooses those that go into the News Feed now can view a list of every post by all their friends in reverse chronological order.
Zuckerberg likened these different News Feed views to sections of a newspaper. That's a stretch, but I do like how they allow you to better filter and organize the updates from your network.
In addition to the News Feed, Facebook cleaned up the overall look and feel of its site. The main change is a consolidated and streamlined navigation bar on the left-hand side. That bar now includes a list of online friends that used to show up in an expandable box on the right-hand side. It also includes links to users' apps, group and any promotional pages they maintain.
With the change, the site now resembles Facebook's mobile apps, which was one of the points of the redesign. It's a smart move because it spares users the challenge of learning and navigating a different interface as they move from their desktop PC to their smartphone.
There's little to object to in the new redesign, although there may be in the future. Right now, ads don't seem to be showing up in the updated News Feed, but Facebook almost certainly is planning to plug them in sometime in the future. And when it does, they will almost certainly be bigger and more obtrusive than before.
But that seems a small price for users to pay compared with past Facebook changes that were more invasive to privacy or simply made it more difficult for users to maintain control of their personal information. The News Feed update doesn't appear to pose those kinds of problems, noted John Simpson, head of the privacy project at Consumer Watchdog.
So I think you'll enjoy the new look of Facebook. It makes the site much more appealing and a lot easier to navigate.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or [email protected]. Follow him at http://www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.