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You Think Facebook is Confusing? How About Facebook Itself Is Confused

Wed November 23 2011 11:50 am  http://www.arlingtoncardinal.com/?p=49201
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Facebook loves to wow users with features and usefulness and gather demographics, but it doesn’t take care to offer users quality for the entire Facebook experience. Facebook has a history of changing things … and aggravating users. Among the most common complaints are changes to the user interface. Links to features are sometimes rearranged, or are missing altogether. Features, such as Discussions are being dropped. Tabs were moved from the top to the left margin. Groups will close down because of a new basic format. The SMS feature works on and off intermittently. The overall layout has changed so news streams are managed differently. Privacy features change with poor documentation or notification. Support and knowledgebase features are seriously lacking.

So why is Facebook so successful? Because it does a few things very well.

(1) It’s still very easy to share photos, and Facebook is very generous with its ability to post a multitude of photos and albums.

(2) It meets a need (and does it well) for people to connect with friends at many levels, and satisfies a basic human instinct to express ideas, achievements and news — mundane and inane or wonderful, helpful, profitable and productive.

(3) It has a very functional contextual search feature, by starting to find your recent pages or recently contacted friends as soon as a text match is detected.

But Facebook seriously fails in its general approach to human interface and that results in a failure of the overall human experience with Facebook, and causes an underlying disgruntlement and resentment of its user base. Compare this level of satisfaction to users of Apple computers, iPods, iPads, and iPhones. By contrast Apple’s customer satisfaction is at a new all time high, beating it’s own previous record and also continuing to dominate in the overall PC industry (See Engadget article, CNET article, Computerworld article). Here’s Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guideline compared as a basis to grade Facebook.

Aesthetic Integrity
Aesthetic integrity is not a measure of how beautiful an application is. It’s a measure of how well the appearance of the app integrates with its function. For example, an app that enables a productive task generally keeps decorative elements subtle and in the background, while giving prominence to the task by providing standard controls and behaviors. Such an app gives users a clear, unified message about its purpose and its identity. If, on the other hand, the app enables the productive task within a UI that seems whimsical or frivolous, people might not know how to interpret these contradictory signals.

Similarly, in an app that encourages an immersive task, such as a game, users expect a beautiful appearance that promises fun and encourages discovery. Although people don’t expect to accomplish a serious or productive task in a game, they still expect the game’s appearance to integrate with the experience.

Aesthetic Integrity on Facebook — Grade B-
Let’s face it Facebook isn’t the most beautiful web page we’ve seen. But its minimalist design keeps it fast and fairly consistent — and is useful for compatibility from the desktop to the wireless phone. News streams, photos are about the same size, and except for features that are hard to find, the page has a workable level of aesthetic integrity. A good example of failure on the aesthetic integrity department is the different locations of the LIKE button and the “Add to My Page’s Favorite.” They are similar features, but they are far apart on location, and one is a link and one is a button. the situation doesn’t encourage discovery or intuitive comparison and understanding of the features. A new user is likely to be confused about the difference between ‘liking’ a page and ‘adding a page to my Page’s favorites.’ When a user likes a page, the thumbs up icon disappears, instead of giving a clear indication that the user has already ‘LIKED’ the page.

Consistency
Consistency in the interface allows people to transfer their knowledge and skills from one application to another. A consistent application is not a slavish copy of other applications. Rather, it is an application that takes advantage of the standards and paradigms people are comfortable with.

To determine whether an app follows the principle of consistency, think about these questions:

Is the application consistent with iOS standards? Does it use system-provided controls, views, and icons correctly? Does it incorporate device features in a reliable way?
Is the application consistent within itself? Does text use uniform terminology and style? Do the same icons always mean the same thing? Can people predict what will happen when they perform the same action in different places? Do custom UI elements look and behave the same throughout the app?
Within reason, is the application consistent with its earlier versions? Have the terms and meanings remained the same? Are the fundamental concepts essentially unchanged?

Consistency on Facebook — Grade D
Sometimes Facebook is very easy to use, and sometimes it is very hard to use. Start typing the name of a Facebook friend you contacted yesterday. The name shows up immediately before you even finish typing. Cool. Now try to find out how to change your privacy level, hide photo albums, etc. Not nearly as easy. If a user goes to the ‘Privacy’ link at the bottom of there is an overwhelming amount of information about all privacy issues, but there is no quick way to understand the most common functions that user want to accomplish — such as, hide your whole profile from non-friends, hide your photos, hide your friends list. Once Facebook can simplify setting privacy features as well they simplified finding friends and favorite pages, then they will get a better grade. They also received a poor grade because the generalized overall user experience is that links and features just might not be where you expect them to be. A lot of this problem has to do with how well Facebook upgrades the user experience with new versions. Facebook does a fairly good job of running a mini-tutorial on new stuff, but the experience still needs improvement. Facebook’s own user manual is deficient too. A user can learn more about Facebook from third party website and forum boards.

Direct Manipulation
When people directly manipulate onscreen objects instead of using separate controls to manipulate them, they’re more engaged with the task and they more readily understand the results of their actions. iOS users enjoy a heightened sense of direct manipulation because of the Multi-Touch interface. Using gestures gives people a greater affinity for, and sense of control over, the objects they see onscreen, because they’re able to touch them without using an intermediary, such as a mouse.

For example, instead of tapping zoom controls, people can use the pinch gestures to directly expand or contract an area of content. And in a game, players move and interact directly with onscreen objects. For example, a game might display a combination lock that users can spin to open.

In an iOS application, people can experience direct manipulation when they:

Rotate or otherwise move the device to affect onscreen objects
Use gestures to manipulate onscreen objects
Can see that their actions have immediate, visible results

Direct Manipulation on Facebook — Grade A
Managing photo albums is the best example of good direct manipulation on Facebook. Photos in an album can be dragged to change order, and are easily rotated or deleted. Posts on the wall are easily deleted or reported or marked for spam.

Feedback on Facebook — Grade F
‘F’ is for ‘Feedback’ and ‘F’ is for ‘Failure’
Since Facebook is usually pretty quick, it gets points with Feedback because the feedback is that the user gets what they want immediately. But if a user isn’t sure or if something fails, Facebook offers no indications for the correct course of action for the user. Feature links don’t have any popup titles, so its hard for a user to be sure they’re setting out on the right course, so they have to resort to trilal and error, asking a friend, or Googling search results for answers (Facebook’s own help center knowledgebase is pretty much useless).

Here’s an example of a good indicator for course of action. If a user rolls the mouse over a friend’s name, a bubble pop up shows the number of mutual friends of that friend with a sampling of thumbnail photos, and an excerpt of your friend — NICE. When a user rolls over the text for a feature, such as “Add to My Page’s Favorites’ there’s no hint about what that feature is an how it’s different from the LIKE thumbs up button at the top of the page — NOT SO NICE. An added little instruction or tip associated with a feature link would be a very useful addition to Facebook.

When issues arise, Facebook does a bad job of addressing them. For example WordPress blogs sometimes don’t paste thumbnails or excerpts from the articles when links are pasted on a Facebook wall. In the developer’s section there is page called a Debugger page (it’s supposed to help) that checks blog article adresses for functionality with Facebook. One example is how well a page will post to a Facebook wall and show photos and excerpts previewing the article. First of all, some of the official Facebook instructional pages link to a defunct ‘Linter’ page (where developers are supposed to be able to test articles). Secondly, when the correct debugging page is reached, error results are cryptic and useless with no referral for correction.

Example error messages:
Inferred Property: The og:url property should be explicitly provided, even if a value can be inferred from other tags.

Inferred Property: The og:title property should be explicitly provided, even if a value can be inferred from other tags. [THERE’S NO REFERRAL LINK TO INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO FIX THIS; WORSE YET SOMETIMES THESE ERROR MESSAGES SHOW AND SOMETIMES THEY DON’T]

Many error messages for general users are useless, too. Following is an error message that occurred after clicking on “Get Updates via RSS”

Another error … Facebook Syndication Error
This feed URL is no longer valid. Visit this page to find the new URL, if you have access: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=xxxxxxxxxx Read more…

You probably reached this page by entering the guid [sic] of a syndicated error message into the location bar of your browser. This probably means that you can’t see the feed that you were trying to access. This is probably because the owner of the feed changed his or her privacy settings or deleted content on the feed. You may be able to get access to the feed by contacting the owner of the content being syndicated in that feed.

That error message is written like it was part of some lame high school project, not a billion dollar corporation.

Worst of all is there is no ability to create a trouble ticket … to notify Facebook of the problem.

These errors arise from Facebook’s effort to create a ‘social graph’ that requires website developers to put some hidden code in their web pages to get Facebook to work properly with the social graph. So far Facebook is failing to get the social graph to work properly.

User Control
People, not applications, should initiate and control actions. Although an application can suggest a course of action or warn about dangerous consequences, it’s usually a mistake for the app to take decision-making away from the user. The best apps find the correct balance between giving people the capabilities they need while helping them avoid dangerous outcomes.

Users feel more in control of an app when behaviors and controls are familiar and predictable. And, when actions are simple and straightforward, users can easily understand and remember them.

People expect to have ample opportunity to cancel an operation before it begins, and they expect to get a chance to confirm their intention to perform a potentially destructive action. Finally, people expect to be able to gracefully stop an operation that’s underway.

User Control on Facebook — Grade F
One of the most glaring examples of failure to properly deliver user control is Facebook’s handling of security on Facebook fan pages. Everyone on Facebook has a personal page. Imagine if you could allow another person — like an evil twin — to administer your personal page. Then one day your evil twin changes your password, locks you out, and starts posting all sorts of embarrassing message on your personal page. That is exactly what can happen to the founder of a fan page that gives another administrator access as an administrator. There is no hierarchy of secure control of the fan page. There should be a master password that only the founder has. Any other administrators should not have access to the master password, which by alteration, could lock the founder out of their own page. And since Facebook hasn’t figured out how to have multiple security levels to Facebook page administration, they should at least have a warning notice about the risk of adding an administrator to your page.

See also …
Apple iOS Developer Library: Human Interface Principles

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