New Facebook Brings Live Updates, News Ticker, Hatred


Facebook has released two big new features to its layout, and--surprise!--not everyone is happy about the changes. The new layout's most noticeable and most complained-about feature is the News Ticker, which continuously refreshes with a stream of updates from your friends. It has affected me, too; ever since the ticker became active on the top right hand corner of my News Feed, this is what I look like when I use Facebook:

Yes, that's me, the dog from "Up." It's as though I'm constantly seeing squirrels ("SQUIRREL!") in the upper right of my news feed, as up-to-the-minute, generally inessential "news" items rain down on the screen from far-flung friends. At this rate, Facebook will do more to contribute to the next generation's Attention Deficit Disorder than Anime. Word is the next Facebook layout is just going to be an unending sequence of flashing neon lights.

Unlike me, the rest of the Internet feel less like distracted dogs and more like volcanically-angry human beings: #NewFacebook was the number one trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, as tweeters aired their grievances about the re-design, generally with profanity and pledges to flee:

"Not again!" cries one user.

"#newfacebook is u-g-l-y," chants Twitter user Curly Wurly.

"I hope Zuckerberg does not have any other ideas..." sighs another unsatisfied customer.

This latest idea, according to the headline of the Facebook blog announcing the new feature, is to provide "Interesting News, Any Time You Visit" and to assist hapless users see "the things you're most interested in."

"In the past," Facebook Engineering Manager Mark Tonkelowitz laments, "News Feed hasn't worked like that."

(Side note: Did Facebook just admit in a blog post that it was often a boring website? Yes, it did. Glad to get confirmation straight from the horse's mouth.)

Anyhow, per Tonkelowitz, the two big new features--the Top Updates/Recent Updates split and the stock-market-of-status-updates News Ticker widget--aim to make Facebook more interesting at all times. Tonkelowitz says that this will make Facebook's front page more like a newspaper's front page, in that

When you pick up a newspaper after not reading it for a week, the front page quickly clues you into the most interesting stories...Now, News Feed will act more like your own personal newspaper. You won't have to worry about missing important stuff.

(Side note 2: Given the health of print newspapers in this country, and that many newspapers are going out of business as users flee to alternative media for their news, this analogy might not be the best for a website that seems to receive massive backlash and exodus threats every time it makes a layout change).

As usual, users hate the new layout, calling it at once too busy and too "convenient": that is, it makes the social networking site a vehicle for a mild form of cyber-stalking that users do not have a choice but to participate in. Discovering new updates from your friends, no matter how minuscule or insignificant, is now not even an option, as the News Ticker shoves them down one's throat (in scrolling, brief form) at all times.

These complainants are correct: The new Facebook is very busy, and it does make spying on friends, acquaintances and would-be lovers an almost mandatory part of the experience.

But Facebook was also smart to implement these changes. The News Ticker is a bit of a distraction ("SQUIRREL!") right now. But it is also a purposeful distraction: It gives the user the impression that something is always happening on Facebook. Before these changes, the site felt more static and less of a useful time-waster after the most recent items on the News Feed had been read. But now, Facebook looks to be a more active, constantly refreshing platform aiming to make more people click on more pages than they would have otherwise.

It's probable that users will get accustomed to the changes, just like they did after extended hissy-fits in 2006 over the introduction of the News Feed and in 2008 over the new look for the profile page), and when they do, people will continue to Facebook (as a verb): Right now, we spend over 700 billion minutes per month on the site, per Facebook's estimate, and the News Ticker should only increase that time.

Users will get past the initial dizziness of the new layout, and if the rumors surrounding the upcoming Facebook F8 conference are true, even more changes--prepare the smelling salts!--will be implemented very soon, which members will then get past, and so on and so forth, forever and ever amen. The #NewFacebook hashtag will die out (it has, as of press time, been replaced at the top of the charts by #YouKnowYouGhetto); the newborn Facebook groups calling for a boycott of the site unless the old layout is brought back will become unpopulated, inactive and deleted. Google Chrome apps for eliminating the News Ticker will fade away, and the flow of apoplectic Facebook commentary will lessen. People will start complaining about more important things, like the stagnant economy, and Netflix.

And do you know where they'll do that complaining? That's right: on Facebook, where they'll get a hang of the new status bar, and the new News Feed, and the new News Ticker, and where they won't even notice the new redesign, except, every once in a while, when they see something at the top right of the screen and are distract--SQUIRREL!

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