Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface

The Thinker by Rodin

I understand the appeal of social networks, but the more I use Facebook the more convinced I am that it is an example of how to not build a social network user interface. Yeah, I know they are more popular than God and they have something like 600 million users worldwide. I know that Facebook and other social media forces like Twitter are the key tools bringing democracy to the Middle East. Maybe it is just me, but I find Facebook annoyingly difficult to use and it seems to get more that way with time. It’s like the Windows 3.1 of social media. Using it is frustrating and often counterproductive.

I notice a lot of my Facebook friends use it even less than I do. Perhaps that is because they find it as baffling as I do. Yes, I do have certain very social friends who spend what seems to be much of their lives on Facebook. I wish some company like Google could make a social network site that is usable and kill this monstrosity. Yet, like Windows, Facebook seems impossible to kill simply because everyone else is using it. Gah!

I have two choices. I can disconnect from Facebook and maybe tick off my friends, or I can stay on Facebook and hope that for all the billions its owners are making they might spend some time to make it usable. Granted, if all I want to do is make a short and inane post, it’s fine. I assume most Facebook users rarely get beyond this level of usage.

Let’s take posting as an example of why it sucks. First, there is a limit on how much you can post, and you get no feedback like you do on Twitter on how many characters you have left. I don’t know why there is a limit in the first place. The limit does not seem to apply on certain places, like on your wall. Moreover, you cannot dress up your text with italics, underlines, bolds or colors. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach. For a while there it didn’t like paragraphs. Now you can at least add paragraphs but if you start a post you can’t undo it unless you select all your text and delete it. Naturally when changes like these are made there is little in the way of warnings. You just have to adapt instantly.

Then there are its notifications. It gives me all sorts of notifications, all of which it thinks are deathly important but none of which I think are so. So some friend of a friend likes some friend’s post. It must tell me about it immediately. I don’t care. Perhaps there is a way to turn off this feature but so far I haven’t found it. But even if you click on the notifications link and select whoever’s status, the notification doesn’t necessarily go away. The only sure fire way I have found to get rid of a notification is to reply or attempt to reply to the status. But in most cases I don’t want to reply.

Then there is the “Top News” versus the “Most Recent” news. Most Recent makes sense, but how does Facebook decide what is “Top News”? I sure don’t know but a lot of my “Top News” is more like “Bottom News”.

If I hit the “Home” link in the top right corner I expect that maybe I would go to the Facebook home page. What often happens is I get a Facebook page with no posts whatsoever. So then I click on the Facebook link in the top left corner. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t. It’s all so baffling, confusing and non-deterministic, just like Windows.

Also baffling and confusing is how my browser is also baffled by it. On any other page, if I use my Page Up or Page Down buttons I will advance up or down the page by approximately the content on the screen. But not when I am in Facebook, or at best this happens irregularly. It probably has something to do with what control I was last in and its properties, but it doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else. So I have to drag the scrollbar with my mouse instead. It’s nuts.

And call me crazy, but if I press the “Friends” link on the left I expect to see a list of my friends. But in the crazy Facebook world, “Friends” means I want to find more friends and I am prompted to use various search engines to find them. Why not make the link “Find more friends”? News alert to Facebook developers: not all of us want to have thousands of friends. I’m done searching for friends. Of course, I cannot turn off this interface. How do I see all those I have “friended”? Apparently I have to go to my “wall”, which is done by clicking on the link associated with my name (why not a “My wall” link?) then click on the Friends link on the left column. Then I can see my 42 friends.

And what is the difference between a post and a message? To most people it would be the same thing, but in the Facebook universe a post is public (at least to your friends) and a message is private. Why not call messages “private messages”? It makes no sense.

Then there is the Profile link, which looks like it’s also my wall, but maybe not. In any event, in most other places I’ve been to when you select Profile you are immediately allowed to edit your profile, not see your profile as others would see you. In the weird Facebook world you go to your profile, then select the Edit Profile link. And what’s the difference between “Profile” and “Account”? Your profile is part of your account. Why not put it under Account? Why be so confusing?

I have only lightly experimented with photos and groups. Needless to say both were confusing so for right now I avoid both photos and groups. Then there is its Byzantine privacy system, which at least has been somewhat simplified, but is still darn confusing, and which often defaults to less privacy instead of more privacy.

I realize Facebook has to make money but I’d like an option to pay them a small stipend so I don’t have to see any annoying ads at all and have no marketing information about me shared. Is that too much to ask?

For all you Facebook fans, am I off base here or is Facebook really so wonderful? Am I some sort of 20th century curmudgeon? I wish Facebook would hire an interface guru like Jakob Nielsen so it would actually be usable to us. With all their billions in revenue, you would think it would be an obvious investment. Right now, companies like Google have every incentive to build a better social network. Making a better user interface should be a piece of cake.

When someone does, then I will be the first to “friend” my Facebook friends and try to persuade them to use it instead. Sorry Facebook, yours isn’t.