On September 22, Facebook nudged me to try its beta. (I asked on Twitter if anyone else got a nudge. So far, no confirmations.) When I finally got around to it, today, the white space and minimalism in the redesign reminded me a bit of new Twitter!
That aside, Facebook’s pivotal priorities are clear in this beta: user-generated interactive stories, video, commerce, groups, and messaging.
There’s still a big display ad on the top right, with Birthdays & Contacts below. New “Stories” from your friends are shown across the top of the newsfeed, as before.
But the key changes are in the elements shifted from the old vertical menu in “Facebook Classic” to the new horizontal one in the Facebook Beta: marketplace, messenger, watch, & groups.
The Pages and Groups the world’s largest social networking company knows you use most remain on the top left in the beta, below the Facebook logo and search field. Below those fields, the Facebook Beta has Friends, Events, Memories, Saved, and See More.
Tapping or clicking “See More” opens up a lonnnnng menu of options which reflect how many areas Facebook has moved into over a decade of expansion, acquisition, and adaptation: Ad Manager, Buy & Sell Groups, Crisis Response, Fundraisers, Games, Gaming Video, Jobs, Messenger Kids, Most Recent, Movies Notes, Oculus, Offers, Pages, Recent Ad Activity, Recommendations, Town Hall, Weather, Help & Support, Settings & Privacy.
At the very bottom of this menu is a footer with a tiny font with links to Privacy, Terms, Advertising, Ad Choices, Cookies, and More, which opens up About, Careers, Development, and Help.
(“Privacy” notably links to Data Policy, which isn’t “redesigned for Facebook Beta yet”)
I saw no sign of the much-ballyhooed News tab in this Facebook Beta. (I suspect whether Facebook puts that tab in the top menu or the (long!) vertical menu (likely?) will have an impact on adoption and repeat use.)
I also saw no sign of Facebook Dating in the Facebook Beta on desktop, which rolled out in the US two weeks ago on the newest version of its mobile apps. (It may be that Facebook, taking a queue from competing dating apps, considers that solely mobile app experience, but it’s a notable absence.)
The choice to put Video, Groups, Marketplace and Messaging in the core user interface of this Facebook Beta graphically shows Facebook’s priorities after its “pivot to privacy, which close observers have had good reason to maintain some healthy skepticism about this year.
What this Facebook Beta means, and why it matters
What it pushes to consumers in our newsfeeds will also show those priorities, whether it’s nudges to register to vote and donate to disaster relief, key life updates from the friends and family closest to us, or updates on its own features or products, news and entertainment from the outlets and creators we “like,” or town halls hosted our elected representatives or debates between candidates in this year’s campaigns.
What the world’s largest social networking company shows and to whom can literally reshape the course of human events, which is why transparency matters so much for civic features, particularly around democratic processes.
Introducing “FaceRank” for authors?
Whenever that News tab rolls out, expect which stories are prominent and which outlets are featured to be the subject of extreme scrutiny, along with how and when layers of friction are added to disinformation eleswhere across Facebook’s platform. There will be bogus cries of ideological bias mixed in with legitimate criticism of which stories get prominent placement, resulting the attention and traffic relevant to ad revenues and more subscriptions.
On that count, I found something that Facebook called new: a linked publications section in settings. Facebook is urging folks who publish articles to build our readership by adding publications and encouraging them to add us so that our bylines are associated. Despite reports that Facebook Authorship has been deprecated over the years, this could be a big deal for several reasons.
First, a news tab could indeed build readership, which means socially connecting writing to our profiles or pages could build followers and Likes. That’s a big carrot.
Second, if Facebook gives different publications or authors weight in the Tab or newsfeed for different areas or search, watch for how it weights validated contributions from verified authors who have added publications and displays them. There may important cues for readers that are directly relevant to trust.
On that count, I found that it was only possible to add a publication if it has a Facebook Page and if Facebok recognized it as one: no options pre-populated for TechPresident or the Sunlight Foundation. (Old gatekeepers, meet the new boss?)
Everything I wrote about why journalists need to pay attention to Google Author Rank applies here, albeit within the universe of Facebook’s walled garden instead of Google’s search results of the Web.
Keep an eye on this space.
In the meantime, there’s a Facebook Beta to keep kicking the tires on.