Barring some visual changes, Facebook has barely changed over the last decade.
Sure, we’ve seen our profiles turn into timelines, and the company’s changed its privacy settings umpteen different times, but since the addition of the ‘Like’ button in 2009, Facebook has done very little to improve the user experience. (Advertisers and shareholders, on the other hand, have been very pleased with the last few years’ improvements, especially with the heavy emphasis on mobile.)
Other social networks and startups are coming after Facebook — Snapchat, in particular, has a death grip on teens and preteens. But with over a billion people, Facebook could still save itself from getting eaten by other social networks.
Here’s how Facebook can improve for its users:
Fix phantom notifications. There’s science behind the idea that we’re addicted to those tantalising red notifications, but Facebook is clearly taking advantage of this by giving you notifications around the clock, every single day, even when there’s nothing actually new to see. Now, numerous times a day, Facebook gives you notifications for birthdays, events you still haven’t responded to, and old comment threads that don’t actually have any new information. At the very least, Facebook should give users control over what they receive notifications for — for example, I only want to see the red highlighted numbers when someone mentions my name or comments on my posts, I don’t care about the rest.
Allow default settings for one’s News Feed. I don’t want to see Facebook’s curated News Feed it thinks I should see; I want to be in control of that aspect. For years, I’d always see my posts in chronological order, but the company recently changed it so any time you reopen Facebook, you must choose “Most Recent” instead of “Top Stories” over and over and over again. It’s obnoxious, and it can be easily fixed.
Let me format comments and posts. One of the first things you see on Facebook is the big “Update Status” box, which asks you, “What’s on your mind?” And unlike Twitter, which limits your characters, you can basically write a small book in Facebook posts and comments. So if Facebook really wants people to share their thoughts, why don’t they allow formatting? Facebook may not care about bolds and italics, but I do — sometimes it’s useful to get your point across instead of writing in all caps. (Until Facebook gets its act together, there’s a browser extension that can help.)
Make better mobile apps. Facebook is all about helping people connect, so you’d think the company would have some unique ideas on how to do that. But with the exception of Paper by Facebook, which felt like a legitimate attempt to present news on Facebook (and elsewhere) in a more beautiful way, Slingshot, Camera, Poke, and Rooms don’t feel very imaginative or intuitive, and they offer nothing to keep me coming back. The iOS ratings on those apps: 3 stars for Rooms, 3 stars for Slingshot, 4 stars for Paper, and 1.5 stars for the main Facebook app. (Facebook pulled Poke and Camera from the App Store in May.) Paper is the only app that feels like a worthy Facebook application; the others feel forced.
Let people create things IN Facebook. Facebook keeps creating apps, but they’re all standalone apps. Presumably, this is so Zuckerberg can tell his shareholders, “See? People download X number of our apps and they take up X amount of real estate on those devices — people clearly love us!” But honestly, I’d prefer to see fewer standalone apps and more features in Facebook that allow me to create. For example, I can write text posts and drop in links, but what about drawing? Why can’t I draw something right in Facebook and share it immediately? Wasn’t “Draw Something” one of the most popular apps for a while? I’d like to see Facebook explore ideas like this, which are centered on creating content that can be shared, rather than finding gimmicky ways to make supplementary experiences better done by competing apps like Snapchat.