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facebook usability fail

A few recent subtle changes to the facebook experience have left me wondering if they employ any usability (or UX) specialists at facebook.

The golden rule of online usability is don’t make the user think. This means create a click path that is not only intuitive but also minimal. A user shouldn’t have to click more than once to get the most useful or important information on the site for example.

By swapping out an easy to read text list of friends available for chat with mini-thumb nails of their profile picture, facebook has made the experience less intuitive and made it way more difficult to chat with somebody. The thumbnails are so small that I have to scroll over each image to see who is there. Instead of a quick glance and one click, I now have to scroll then click then wait for the window to open. Sometimes clicking on a person sends me to their profile page where I then have to click a second time to chat with them. How is this supposed to be a better / improved experience from what we had before?

The other subtle change that drives me bananas is how your photo albums are now handled. Although it’s neat to see my friends pictures, it should not have to take 2 clicks to get to my own pictures. “My uploads” is also far less intuitive than “My pictures.” I get why they did this – they want to encourage a deeper integration of your social graph with your friends by forcing you to view their pictures first, but it’s at the expense of the overall usability of the site.

If you’re as frustrated as I am over some of the new site features, I recommend you spend less time on their website online and more time on your mobile device. facebook mobile is actually a great user experience and isn’t cluttered up by some of the other changes we have been seeing online. Well, at least not yet.

November 2, 2010   3 Comments

bacon to facebook – bring back the birthday!

I’m a big fan of the current facebook user experience online.

I’m actually an even bigger fan of their latest iphone app that allows better access to groups and pages and improves the overall user experience.  Adding the ability to sync with my contact list to add pictures and links to my iphone contact list is the best example of an App integrating with a device yet.

It’s just missing one key feature – the birthday push

The last few iterations of the facebook platform have moved birthday notices below the fold of your screen – which means I almost never see who is celebrating a birthday anymore. I was having a wobbly pop the other night with my good friend Jason who suggested that having your calendar also sync with facebook events you’ve already opt-ed in for would be brilliant.

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s go one step further and bring the birthday back as either a push message from facebook on my iphone, or as an iphone event reminder as synced by the facebook app.

I’m terrible with remembering birthdays – so having a push message on my iphone would help me be better a friend :)

January 22, 2010   No Comments

Social Media drives Absolut Vodka Pop-up Event

Last week’s Pop-up event by Absolut vodka was a great success. Justin Broadbent transformed the unused 3rd level at the Bay TTC subway station into a multi-media installation that created a great constrast to the usual subway station environment. By day the venue was a multi-media art exhibit and by night the venue became one of the hotest VIP parties in Toronto!

Check out this great video produced by I love T.O. that captures the essence of the event:

Although the event was anchored in retail and supported heavily by PR, the integrated agency team (Harbinger for PR, Vision for event management, BSTREET for digital & retail) decided to also leverage social media and bluetooth to drive event awareness and participation.

Pre-event awareness was created through a twitter account (@absolutcanada), a facebook public profile page (which also auto-published tweets to the wall), Justin’s blog, and through the Absolut Canada website. As this was an exclusive VIP event with a strict guest list capacity, event-goers were driven to the facebook page to sign up for the guest list.

We had reached capacity on the guest list within 48 hours of launching & announcing this feature and had to update our digital communications to focus primarily on the daytime event.

The day of the event we also leveraged the downtown Toronto bluetooth network (with 25 transmitters) to push messages to devices that were bluetooth enabled. We also setup a one-off mini-network near the venue itself and overall we had 7% opt-in to our messages. Compared to traditional or online media rates, 7% was a great number.

Check out some great pictures here. We’re looking forward to the next opportunity to help Absolut vodka create a pop-up world of opportunity.

August 19, 2009   No Comments

Get your own vanity facebook URL before it’s too late!

For the same reason computer generated email adddresses never worked that great (think of the old 733511.10@compuserve.com address format in the early nineties), facebook is finally allowing users to register their own vanity name starting June 13th.

I was too late to secure my own name, but I managed to secure facebook.com/phryl – which is at least consistent with my other social media URLs and my own personal branding.

Brands looking to get their own vanity URL (so that they can finally promote how to find them in other media channels) need to have at least 1000 fans first on their public profile page (formely known as fan pages).  Don’t worry if you don’t have 1,000 yet – your trademarked name will be protected if you want it later when you finally reach facebook relevance :)

There are a few issues / questions that arise from this move:

  1. Wasn’t the whole point of facebook was that it was a closed community of people you already knew? If so, why do care if your facebook profile is now guessable / findable? I’m not sure everybody will want their profile to be fully indexed by Google now
  2. What URL do you stick on your business card or on your email signature? It’s getting crowded with my linkedin profile (linkedin.com/in/phryl), twitter account (twitter.com/phryl) and this blog. It may be time to look at a URL aggregation strategy to keep control of my personal brand. The same could be said for brands you are managing.

If you haven’t secured your own vanity URL yet, you can do it by clicking here.

What’s your vanity URL?

June 15, 2009   4 Comments

It’s time to make your acquaintance with friendfeed

Exactly one year ago I blogged about a new trend with social media sites called  social aggregators.  While everybody was waiting for the next facebook, a new type of service was popping up that allowed people to aggregate all their feeds from facebook, blogs, flickr, Youtube, slideshare, twitter, Linkedin and many others into one stream through one main interface.

Social aggregators are like RSS newsreaders – but for all your social streams…. which we call your lifestream.  

The problem then was that outside of facebook, very few of my friends were actively contributing to other social media channels… so what was the point?  

Then something unexpected happened – twitter exploded in growth and popularity and everybody forgot about aggregators. 

How is that my friendfeed subscription requests have ballooned to 300 in a week? 


Quite simply, they added a utility that allows you to auto-find and invite your twitter followers to your friendfeed subscription. Twitter recently released updated APIs which make it easier for other sites to tap into the social graph of twitter.  

Having said that, it’s not like suddenly all my friends are contributing to multiple sources.  95% of my friendfeed subscriptions are just twitter streams as seen above. 4% are facebook streams, and 1% is mixture of slideshare, flickr, and YouTube.

Brands who publish to multiple sites (flickr, Youtube, twitter, facebook, their own blog etc…) have an opportunity to create an aggregate brand personality online with friendfeed that allows users to follow, comment, and interact with the brand in a user friendly and intuitive way. 

It’s like creating your own skittles site – but actually in the true spirit of what social media is all about. 

May 20, 2009   No Comments

New facebook interface fails usability test

Over the weekend I was re-organizing my home office and came across Steve Krug’s book entitled “don’t make me think” – a common sense approach to web usability.

The usability team (assuming there is one) at facebook should make this mandatory reading before implementing their next interface update.

The basic premise of the book is that websites that are the most usable are the ones where the user’s natural intuition is sufficient to navigate through a site and find what they are looking for. Overly designed or function driven interfaces generally fail basic usability tests.

The facebook team has been so concerned about the rising popularity of twitter that they’ve updated your home page to mimic the flow and constant update feed that twitter has.  They’ve even changed the status bar to say “What’s on your mind” and changed the publish button to say “share.”

I like the core idea of making your facebook homepage a “lifestream” of all your friends activities that is updated live. Facebook’s “social graph” means there is inherently richer & deeper content to stream and given they already have critical mass the move was a smart one given twitter’s rising popularity.

What i don’t like is that there is no focus on the landing page.

Facebook recently updated their social ad system (the little ads on the right pane) to incorporate events and other friend activity – including friend suggestions. By sandwiching social ads with relevant updates from your social graph, they hoped to increase clickthrough rates of their ads as they are still among the poorest performing in the industry.  They now call this section “Highlights.”

Highlights on their own and in the context of the previous homepage design was a neat idea – but in the context of the current site design, all we get is clutter, a loss of focus and a loss of visual hierarchy.

Although it’s neat that I can now self-select other feeds to add to my facebook live stream (like flickr, youtube, delicious,digg etc…), it would have been more user friendly to incorporate these personalization options in the left navigation pane on the home page instead of hiding them on my personal page under settings.

Interested in interface design and usability? Here are a few other books I’ve dusted off this weekend that are worth a read:

March 16, 2009   9 Comments

How social media has changed the definition of friendship

A few weeks ago I was over at my Aunt and Uncle’s place helping them re-jailbreak a first generation iphone I had bought for them in Augusta last spring.

Our conversation drifted into why they both haven’t signed up on faceboook yet.  The short answer was – they are already connected to their friends.

Explaining the social graph and the benefits of digital word of mouth & expanding their network of friends online led to a very simple statement that really resonated;

Our definition of friendship is different from theirs.

How many friends do you have online? I’ve currently got over 600 friends on facebook, over 400 on Linkedin, nearly 400 followers on twitter and smaller amounts on slideshare, last.fm, friendfeed, YouTube, and flickr.  I’ve also got a few thousand followers who visit this blog every month.

Although most of my friends aren’t on all these platforms or even have as many “friends” as I do in each channel, some have many times more than me.

Can you really have 2,000 friends?

In 1992,  Robin Dunbar published an article suggesting that a person has a theoretical cognitive limit of about 150 “stable” relationship they can maintain.  This number is now referred to as the Dunbar number.

facebook recently reported that most users who have hundreds of friends in reality only really interact with between 5-10% of their facebook buddies. Women tend to interact a bit more than men (shocker!), but certainly the stats support Dunbar’s theory.

Is it time to unfriend / unfollow all but your 150 best friends in each social media channel?

The short answer is No.

Why? It’s about context.

Although my theoretical limit is 150 friends, based on my life stage, time of day, month, or year, my circle of friends change. In the Winter my circle of friends are primarily ski industry friends while in the summer my circle consists mostly of friends from one of my Ultimate Frisbee teams or can be classified as golfing buddies.

The same thing can be said for my professional life – depending on the time of year or what I’m focusing on, I will engage & reach out to different sets of business associates and friends.

Social Media has changed the definition of friends.  Just as media consumption and interaction has fragmented with new technology, so has our relationships and how we define them.

Best friends and trusted business associates will always be there for you – but social media has allowed us to cast a wider net personally and professionally – and thereby expanding or evolving who we consider a friend.

Knowing that relationships drive business results and other relationships – why wouldn’t you leverage social media to access & engage a broader universe of people?

The key for me is managing context.

Although some of my peers are spending time trying to get everybody to be on every channel, I recommend you manage your online brand carefully.

My social media lens looks like the following:

  • Linkedin for my professional network. If you work in my industry (or related), I will almost always accept your connection request.
  • facebook for the people I already know. Although i wouldn’t necessarily invite all my facebook friends over for a dinner party, I know all of you and would stop to say hello if we bumped into each other while walking down the street, waiting in line at the ski hill etc… I’m careful on what I post to facebook – but it’s certainly the most personal channel
  • twitter for all the people i would like to get to know better. following peers, industry experts or even Lance Armstrong – because I find the tweet feed interesting.  Although I may share some personal insights, I’m very careful of what i post here both because all my tweets are searchable by strangers and because I don’t know everybody who is following me back. If you follow me – I will almost certainly follow you back – as long as you aren’t obviously a spammer, wacko or combination of both :)
  • All other channels – I use them more for personal media consumption and don’t have the time to engage in new / separate friendships. I use friendfeed as my social life stream aggregator – but it’s a bit overwhelming for me at times – and this is part of what I do / what I am.  I can’t imaging my super cool Uncle trying to manage a social media life stream.

What about you – has your definition of friends or friendship changed or evolved as a result of your social media consumption habits?

March 5, 2009   19 Comments

CNN’s live Obama inauguration stream will make facebook the new twitter

Twitter was the social media darling and top story in 2008 with over 700% growth.  It even trumped the news that facebook had finally caught up to myspace for overall traffic.

Then came the news that facebook was offering $500 million in cash and stocks to buy Twitter.  Twitter declined. Thanks to a flexible API, there are now over 150 tools that leverage, integrate and build on the Twitter platform.

It seems like nothing will stop Twitter’s rise to world social media dominiation. Except maybe facebook.

CNN and facebook have teamed up to offer live facebook status streaming during Obama’s inauguration on January 20th.  Point your browser to http://www.cnn.com/live and then update your facebook status which will then stream to the CNN live page as pictured above on the 20th.

What’s interesting is that facebook is turning what was a closed broadcast system (your status update to your friend network) into an open broadcast system – like Twitter.

The end result could fundamentally change the way people use facebook while trumping Twitter’s momentum.

facebook could be the new twitter – and the story of 2009.

They’ve already trumped friendfeed (a personal social media stream aggregator) by copying their unique features into facebook’s homepage, so this doesn’t come as a complete surprise.

facebook also has something that twitter doesn’t have – critial mass of non techno-geeks.

That $500 million offer may look pretty good afterall.

January 14, 2009   10 Comments

2008 Predictions – how did I do?

Around this time last year I made some outrageous predictions about what was to come in 2008.  Let’s take a quick look back and see how well I did: 

  1. SMS third party advertising will take off.  Didn’t really see this take off in Canada and with the mobile web / and mobile widgets taking off, I can’t see this as a big focus in 2009. Having said that, there are more services popping up that allow media planners to venture into SMS as well as the Mobile web.
  2. Mobile Web Advertising will become part of your media buy. This definitely happened in 2008 in Canada with Quattro and Yahoo offering a good mix of inventory to buy. This will only continue to grow in 2009. 
  3. MMS Common short codes will arrive. This did happen in 2008 – although not all mobile aggregators are able to facilitate this for you. MyThumb mobile was the first to offer MMS short codes and now you can also go through Magnet Mobile too. 
  4. Mobile payments will start to emerge as a new payment medium. There was a great conferences this year on the subject in Canada facilitated by the Canadian Institute.  RBC and Visa launched their pilot program for contactless payments in Canada. Visa also recently launched 4 new international pilot programs. Mastercard also announced this past May that they’re launching a pilot to extend their pay pass program to mobile. 
  5. The iphone will finally arrive in Canada. It sure did – and I was right that they waited until the 3G version came out. I also predicted that other retailers may offer the device – which didn’t happen… although both Walmart and select Sam’s Club stores will be selling them in the near future.  Best Buy and Future shop also announced that they would be carrying it. 
  6. Fixed or low-cost data plans will be universal. Although not as low as we’d like, we finally have affordable plans in Canada. Yah! I was paying $80 for 500 megs last year and now I’m paying $45 for 500 megs and includes a voice plan. 
  7. Mobile web will catch fire. I was partially right here. Thanks to smartphones like the iphone, more consumers discovered the mobile web, but more specifically mobile widgets that grab data from the mobile web have really taken off thanks to the iphone app store. 
  8. New mobile carriers will be announced. This happened and was blogged about here.
  9. Google will launch their own phone (gphone) with their own operating system and buy U.S. spectrum. The first two happened, but they decided not to aggressively pursue spectrum… this time. There are other auctions coming up in 2009…
  10. Social Networking will make the leap from desktop to Mobile as a primary interface / access point. We definitely saw a huge leap in 2008 to mobile – with facebook, linkedin, hi-5 and twitter all offering great mobile options through widgets and mobile web. Twitter saw over 600% growth and a big part of this can be attributed to mobile.  Mobile only social networking sites such as itsmy.com also saw big growth in 2008. They even partnered up with my favorite mobile and social search tool taptu to enhance their member services. 
Overall it would seem my predictions weren’t that outrageous at all!

I published a second list in August as part of a mobile insert at Strategy Magazine.  We’ll take a look at those ones in my next post before making some super crazy predictions for 2009 :)

January 7, 2009   5 Comments

Toronto Twitterers are Tops at sending Tweets

Hubspot just released their state of the twittersphere report for the last quarter.

Twitter has gone through 600% growth this year with about 10,000 new accounts being opened every day now. 35% have 10 or fewer followers and 9% have no followers at all – likely people who heard about Twitter and signed up only to find that the experience is not as intuitive or rewarding as facebook was.

Just like facebook though, Canadians are world leaders in using Twitter with Toronto representing one of the largest hubs in the world – currently ranked 8th.  London, Uk is the top hub with San Fransico, New York and Chicago closely behind.

Twitter has truly entered mainstream consciousness – so it will be interesting to see if world wide adoption of the micro-blogging service will mirror that of facebook – which also has a huge following in our multi-cultural country.

I’m still skeptical that it will become useful for anyone other than geeks and celebrity gossip junkies, but i’ve been wrong before with Twitter.

December 24, 2008   2 Comments