Facebook Lite Reveals Bigger Changes Afoot

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By Eric Eldon Comment

Facebook | Home-3Facebook Lite is a simplified version of the site, and it just came out of beta today, rolled out for now to English-speaking Facebook users. Although Lite is primarily intended for people with slow internet connections, especially in other countries it also reflects large-scale design changes that Facebook is gradually in the process of making.

Perhaps the most striking example of this more geological change is the home page News Feed in Lite, although the difference is not obvious at first.

And, there’s a big follow-on question here. Where users will be able to find applications and Pages? More on that in a moment.

In the March redesign, Facebook got rid of its algorithmically-enhanced feed, the one that showed a wide range of photos, status updates, who your friends just became friends with, romantic entanglements or disentanglements, and much else. Instead, the feed was just mostly status updates and posted links, with friends-of-friends and most other items chucked over into an auto-tuned right-hand column called Highlights. Upon launch, some users complained about the deluge of information in the new stream; instead of seeing the most interesting things their friends were up to, users saw the most recent things.

Facebook stream home

In Lite, Facebook has done the feed differently from what it currently is on the main site. The News Feed is called “All Stories.” Highlights actually still exists, but it’s a button right next to All Stories on the upper part of the site, called Top Stories. Click on it, and instead of the raw stream, you see the Highlights algorithm presented in a stream form. This top-button navigation is more like a feature Facebook had in a News Feed design years ago, as well as FriendFeed’s top stories feature.

The content of both feeds are also different in Lite than on the home site. Items from events and birthdays — two of the only apps on the site —  appear at the top of the new feeds.

Facebook lite home

I asked Facebook about the changes and a company spokesperson responded “we’ve heard the feedback about people preferring the algorithmic method that was news feed versus the stream. We’ve been working on the right way to balance that on the site.” The company has previously hinted at the same thing, shortly after the March changes resulted in a user uproar. In June, we heard that Highlights might be moved back into the stream as part of a move away from the raw stream — in some sense, Lite is an implementation of that.

What About Apps and Pages?

However, Lite is missing lots of things, including apps and Pages. There’s no easy way to find apps, because the bottom app toolbar is gone, apps don’t show up in Facebook’s auto-complete dropdown in search, and no items about apps currently appear in the News Feed. But not just third-party apps are missing. For example, Facebook’s popular Groups and Chat applications are also apparently too heavy for Lite, as are the friend filters it emphasized in the March design.

So, Lite will have to gain some more features if it hopes to offer the same richness of experience as the main site.

When I talked to Facebook today, the company re-affirmed that Lite is still what it was envisioned as — a simpler, faster way for new people in other countries to use the site. “But clearly, there’s some value to making it available to everyone in the world,” said the company spokesperson, “and like any product, it will continue to evolve. We’re not currently focused on integrating Platform, but we might integrate elements of Platform, or other apps from Facebook.”

If we’re looking at an early build of Facebook’s future, one can guess where missing items might go. Notifications have a new page, which you click to directly from a small link at the top of the News Feed. Unlike the current version, you can see all of your notifications at once. But there are no notifications from apps in it. Facebook could easily add app notifications in here, if it wanted to.

In sum, Lite is is what it is for now. Rather than Lite gaining more features in the future and becoming Facebook main site, Facebook will probably make its existing site lighter of features. In this sense, launching Lite to the world is just another way for the company to test out what changes are worth making. So, app developers and Page owners should have no cause for alarm.