Feed Me, Facebook

Facebook spiced up its offering today by fundamentally changing how users interact online through a new interface. Users will be in for a surprise as the redesigned Facebook now features AJAX-y control to expand and collapse modules on the profile page. But besides the aesthetics, Facebook has added two features: Mini-feed and News Feed.

Mini-feed tracks one’s own usage on Facebook. Every time you leave another person a message, befriend someone, update your status, RSVP for an event, edit your profile, add a photo, or join a group, Facebook notes that down and displays it all in your mini-feed. Essentially it’s a history tracker of your usage. It doesn’t have a particular practical use but it does reinforce the use of Facebook as central to a student’s social life. This will be yet another distracting tool of Facebook that keeps users on the site without any real purpose.

The News Feed, however, is a bit more substantial although it is built directly upon the mini-feed. Instead of tracking your own usage, News Feed tracks your friends’ usage. You see every last move your friends make online. When they change their profile, add a new picture, write a note, join a group, etc., you will get an update to your news feed informing you. This can be very useful so that you don’t constantly have to check other people’s profiles, but it is a bit scary that every click on Facebook is transparent. Plus it can be downright inundating to receive so much information, most of which is useless. In my feed, I have 40+ “news” items from the last 24 hours. If I get 40 items in this feed every 24 hours, that is a lot. Most items are things like, “Susie Q is now in a complicated relationship,” or “Johnny R has added Spiderman 2 to his favorite movies,” and “Betty B has posted more drunken photos from her weekend adventures.” I don’t care to hear about a majority of items listed.

Facebook’s next step on this feature is to enable users to customize their feeds displaying what they want to hear about. Maybe they want to know when their best friend joins a online group but has no interest in hearing about a long-lost high school buddy who no longer watches CSI: Miami. The ability to customize what kind of information and which individuals’ info come into the feed is a natural and necessary step because Facebook is not necessarily about hearing from all your contacts, all the time.

For now, I commend Facebook for introducing students to the idea of “feeds” which has long been the standard in the blogosphere. They will continue to innovate by bring new features to students that will keep them hopelessly hooked to the website for life…