More on Facebook and the Challenge of Staying Cool

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on the increased usage of ads on Facebook and how they are contributing to the perception that Facebook is no longer cool. Seemingly on cue, Blake Ross, a director of product management at Facebook, has announced that he is leaving the company due to similar sentiments. 

Here is an excerpt from his Goodbye note as reported by TechCrunch:

I’m leaving because a Forbes writer asked his son’s best friend Todd if Facebook was still cool and the friend said no, and plus none of HIS friends think so either, even Leila who used to love it, and this journalism made me reconsider the long-term viability of the company.

While it was quite incidental that this news broke only a couple days after my blog post, it did get me thinking again about why I thought Facebook was losing it’s cool factor and what it could possibly do to regain it.

Was it just the increased usage of ads that contributed to this shift, or was there something more? In short, I believe the answer has to do with simplicity. In the early days of Facebook, the product was very simple — and specifically, the UX was quite simple. In fact, one could reasonably argue that what propelled them to leapfrog MySpace and become the only Social Network that mattered was directly related to the cleanliness and simplicity of Facebook and how much better that was than the mess and clutter of MySpace. These days, there are rumblings that Facebook is turning into MySpace. And the funny thing about such a proclamation is that it could be made both figuratively (it is the super power but it may be replaced one day soon) or literally (It used to be a clean and simple product but it is now messy and cluttered).

So what should Facebook do next? That’s the important question. It’s certainly easy for me to sit here on the outside and critique them. But the reason I critique them is because I think that they still have the potential to be cool, and more importantly, they still have the potential to achieve Mark Zuckerberg’s mission of making the world more open and connected. I’m going to continue to critique, but I’m also rooting for them to succeed long-term.

Facebook Ads and the Future of Facebook Staying Cool

Recently, I had some less than ideal user experiences with respect to ads when using Facebook – both in the web flow as well as on the iPhone. Around the same time, I read an article on TechCrunch about how video ads may be entering the Facebook landscape. This exposure to increased ads on Facebook and the prospect of seeing an even more prominent role for ads in Facebook got me thinking about the future of Facebook. 

First, let’s take a look at the ads I saw and why they bothered me. Starting with the iPhone, I saw the following: 


As you can see above, this is two ads for the exact same company spanning the entire iPhone screen (and yes, I do have an iPhone 5 – which is even longer!). When I first saw this, I was pretty annoyed. Why would Facebook be showing me ads for the same product in repeat? Upon closer look, I realized that one of the ads is for the Match site, and the other is for the Match app, but still — the same principle applies, the two ads are too alike to be shown in repeat to the user. 

Next, let’s move to the web flow and take a look at what I saw on Valentine’s Day. After signing in, here’s how my News Feed looked above the fold: 


I took a scan around the page, and to my horror, there was zero content on this page that was useful or interesting for me. The page is completely filled with ads. Let’s take a closer look — with added markup from me in order to highlight each and all of the ads: 



By my count, there are seven ads on this page, and zero original news stories that are interesting to me. That’s a pretty bad ratio. That’s 100% ads and 0% original content.

The day after I saw the page above, I saw this article on TechCrunch.  To summarize, the article speculates that some day soon, Facebook will have auto-play video ads in the News Feed. 

Suffice it to say that I was not pleased to read this article. My experience with ads on the Facebook iPhone app, the Facebook Web app, and the article speculating on video ads got me thinking about a quote from Mark Zuckerberg in the movie The Social Network

// start quote

Mark Zuckerberg: Cause TheFacebook is cool and if we start installing pop-ups for Mountain Dew it’s not gonna be cool…
Eduardo Saverin: Well I wasn’t thinking Mountain Dew, but at some point, and I’m talking as the business end of the company, the site…
Mark Zuckerberg: We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is. We don’t know what it can be. We don’t what it will be. We know that it is cool. That is a priceless asset I’m not giving up.

// end quote

While it’s not known if Mark Zuckerberg actually said these words, this would be a plausible thing for him to have said at the time. Moreover, he has been on record multiple times explicitly prioritizing product and user experience over profits. 

So the important question is: how cool is Facebook today, and will it continue to stay that cool in the eyes of its users with the addition of more ads? For this user, at least, I wish the Facebook of 2013 (and the future) would be a little more like how it used to be — and that would be really cool. 




Twitter Bug: Incorrect Redirect

Noticed a bug in the Twitter web flow when a non-signed-in user attempts to view another user’s Following list. For example, I was attempting to view the list of Twitter handles that Bill Simmons follows.  

Steps to reproduce: 

1. While you are not signed into your own Twitter account, go to a Twitter page and click on the Following module:


2. At this point, you will be redirected to the sign-in flow. Presumably, this is because Twitter doesn’t want guest users (not signed in) to view this information: 



3. After sign-in, you should be redirected to the user’s list of handles they are following. However, you are incorrectly redirected to your own Home feed:



Gmail “Report Spam” Missing Bulk Functionality

Here’s another case of missing product functionality that may be due to a bug or by design. When going through some of my emails in Gmail, I noticed something interesting with how the Report spam feature works when multiple emails are selected. Let’s take a look. 

Here’s a search for all emails that have the label designated as southwest-junk:


And here’s the view after all of the emails on the first page of search results are selected: 


At this point, on mouse-hover over the Report spam button, the button appears as enabled and there is a tooltip text that highlights the functionality. The interesting thing, is that this functionality is not available when all 213 emails in the search set are selected. 


In the view above, the Report spam button is disabled and the user is not able to report all messages in the search set as spam. While this doesn’t strike me as missing functionality that would be super important to a user, it is a bit arbitrary to allow the user to mark 50 messages as spam, but not 213. Perhaps it was a performance optimization decision – or perhaps a product call.