NEW YORK Facebook is planning on March 11 to unveil a sweeping redesign of both its home page and its branded partner pages -- changes that may require publishers and advertisers to take a more active role in communicating to users via the popular site.
In a conference call with reporters today, the company announced it has signed more than a dozen partners to test a new version of its public branded pages, including President Obama, The New York Times, the National Basketball Association and the band U2. Going forward, these partners' pages will be designed to better resemble the average person's Facebook profile rather than serving as static destinations where users can look up basic information. According to Facebook's director of product Chris Cox, the idea will be for these companies and officials to become more active publishers, frequently broadcasting messages in real time like so many Facebook users do.
In addition, bloggers and small publishers can now use Facebook as a platform to publish content to an unlimited number of friends/readers. Previously, Facebook users were limited to 5,000 friends.
These changes in approach are a recognition of an overall shift in the way people use Facebook, which in the past few years has evolved into a live communication vehicle where users regularly update their statuses -- rather than the Web's version of a phonebook. "From who you are to what are you doing," said Cox.
The revamped home page will reflect that reality, as the three-year-old News Feed product will now become the site's centerpiece, showcasing an ever-changing list of text, photo and video messages posted by users, publishers and advertisers.
Facebook users will now be able to group all of their various friends in several pre-set categories, such as close friends, co-workers and family -- and also far more easily control how often they receive status updates from whom. "You control who is in your stream," said Cox. "That's something users have been asking for a lot."
In addition, while News Feed will now focus solely on real-time status updates, a secondary feed called Highlights will report on various actions take by a user's friends on the site, such as Mike joined the group X.
Under the new format brands and publishers' messages will also be published via The Stream. Thus, advertisers that in the past have simply maintained fan pages might need to become more active to get noticed on Facebook.
With the focus on the site's much guarded and debated user experience, advertising was barely mentioned during Wednesday's call.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented that Facebook's new design should help increase user engagement, which should appeal to brands. "The concept of being connected to someone has a lot of value," he said.