Ever noticed how the remote for each new TV you check out seems to have more and more buttons? Or how that online game you used to enjoy is feeling less like fun as the options pile on? It’s not your fault. It’s a well-documented phenomenon, found in hardware, in software and on the Web: feature creep.
Engineers, bless their hearts, want to give us access to all the exciting new functions they’ve come up with. But they’re not great at making them simple enough for the average user, or at removing the buttons we no longer need. When a company does have the courage and discipline to slash away at its engineers’ wish lists, and adhere to the KISS principle of design (Keep It Simple, Stupid), it can rise head and shoulders above its rivals and delight its users. Apple is a great example of that, as is Nintendo (the Wii being one of the most simple — and successful — game console designs of all time.)
Unfortunately for its 800 million users, Facebook does not appear to be that kind of company. It used to be, and its inherent simplicity was part of the reason it was so successful. But now it is falling victim to feature creep — and a roster of settings that are becoming increasingly complex.
Take the Ticker, for example, that real-time stream of information which now crowds the right-side of your Facebook page with a lot of distracting noise. Or look at the Like button, which recently celebrated its first birthday. That was a very popular all-purpose tool that spread rapidly across the Web. Everyone knows what it means to Like something. But Facebook couldn’t leave well enough alone.
At this year’s f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Gestures, which will allow you to any verb a any noun. As Zuckerberg pointed out, this will allow you to “read” a book or “hike” a trail rather than like it. That’s great if you like a lot of granularity in your News feed, but I fear that for the vast majority of us it means more confusion, more noise, and the decline of the social network’s single most iconic feature.
Once upon a time, you just friended people; now you have to decide if you want to subscribe to their feed instead. A profile used to be a profile, plain and simple; now it can also be a Page (and converting one to the other can open up a world of pain). And let’s not even get into the debate over Timeline, the radical redesign of the user profile, which will start rolling out to all users in the next week or so and eventually be required for all of us. Got your all-important top-of-the-page picture picked out yet? Booked the hours that it’s going to take to fill in the story of your life, all the way back to birth? (The vast majority of respondents in our poll said filling in their Timeline gaps would take too much time and effort.)
The Other 792 Million
Chances are, as a Mashable reader, you’re on top of some of this stuff. Maybe you’ve even gone through the complex steps required to activate your Timeline ahead of time. Great; that puts you in the top 1% of Facebook users: the early adopters, the people who get excited about change rather than fear it. But spare a thought for the other 792 million users, most of whom don’t even know these changes are coming. There are millions of people who think the Ticker is the new Facebook. They’re in for a nasty surprise.
Even for those at the top of the pile, the complexities are growing. Many friends who cover Facebook for a living have their pet peeves about the site and the increasing number of roadblocks it throws in the path to doing something that should be very easy. Take Lists, for example. Facebook used to treat Lists as a way to prevent certain people from seeing certain information; you could exclude your boss and your parents from seeing all those girls’ night out pictures you were tagged in, say.
But now Facebook has changed its mind and decided that Lists are more like Circles on Google+ — ways to share with specific groups of friends rather than block specific groups of friends. In other words, there are now two kinds of Lists. It is possible to merge your old Lists together, but we’ve heard from users that this blasts your privacy settings. And who has the time to sort out this stuff? It’s getting so that managing your social network, and making sure nothing embarrassing slips out, is a full-time occupation in itself.
Memo To Facebook: Chill Out
The impression we get of Facebook is that of a young company, both in its own age and in the average age of its employees. They’re excited. They want to change the world. They can’t sit still for long. The engineers — and it is a company top-heavy with engineers, starting with Zuckerberg himself — can’t wait to thrill you with their latest feature. And they’re constantly looking over their shoulders at what Google+ is developing.
That all adds up to a dangerous mindset. It ignores the fact that most users just want to post a status update and read what their friends are up to. It treats casual visitors as if they were power users. I agree with my colleague Christina Warren that few people are likely to quit Facebook just yet, or not enough to matter. But that doesn’t mean they won’t get frustrated, confused, and less likely to visit. In less time than you might think, that will open up opportunities for rivals.
What Zuckerberg needs is the discipline and the vision of a Steve Jobs or a Jeff Bezos; the power to resist feature creep and focus on what matters.
Do you agree? Is Facebook becoming more complex and feature-laden than necessary? Let us know in the comments.
This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.
Via Mashable: http://www.mashable.com