A year ago, Facebook announced it would redesign its News Feed. The new design would feature bigger pictures. It looked like this:
But that design never got a full roll-out.
Some users got it, but most never did.
Then, this year, Facebook pushed a more toned-down redesign.
This is what the site looks like for everyone now:
So why did Facebook ditch the beautiful design for one that looks like it’s from 2007?
Dustin Curtis, an entrepreneur who also writes a very popular blog, says he’s heard from Facebook employees the reason is that the beautiful, big-picture design was so popular with users that they weren’t using other parts of the site, and that this was driving ad impressions down.
In her own blog post, Facebook product designer Julie Zhuo says Curtis has it wrong.
She says the reason Facebook went with the older-looking design is that, unlike Facebook employees, Curtis, and the kinds of people who read blog posts about design, most Facebook users still have older computers with crappy monitors.
For these people, the older-looking design just works better than the photo-rich one Facebook showed off a year ago.
It turns out, while I (and maybe you as well) have sharp, stunning super high-resolution 27-inch monitors, many more people in the world do not. Low-res, small screens are more common across the world than hi-res Apple or Dell monitors. And the old design we tested didn’t work very well on a 10-inch Netbook. A single story might not even fit on the viewport. Not to mention, many people who access the website every day only use Facebook through their PC — no mobile phones or tablets. Scrolling by clicking or dragging the browser scrollbar is still commonly done because not everyone has trackpads or scroll wheels. If more scrolling is required because every story is taller, or navigation requires greater mouse movement because it’s further away, then the site becomes harder to use. These people may not be early adopters or use the same hardware we do, but the quality of their experience matters just as much.
Zhuo says some testing showed the photo-rich redesign would have been better for Facebook revenues. But testing also showed users who had it were less likely to share content through Facebook, post comments, or get to Facebook groups they liked to use.
Zhuo’s explanation makes sense. It sounds like Facebook did the smart thing. It’s interesting, though, that Facebook is now so large that it has to cater to old-fashioned users. Long term, that could make it harder for the company to push the core Facebook.com product in innovative directions. That could open it to disruption from a faster-moving startup that doesn’t have a billion old-fashioned users to worry about.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is obviously aware of this threat, and that’s why he’s been so busy buying startups like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus.
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