Facebook Profile Redesign Will Coax More Data From Users: An In-Depth Review

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By Josh Constine Comment

Facebook has released a major redesign of the user profile which makes more profile info, photos, and friends immediately visible. A single panel navigation system, image-accompanied Likes, Friendship Page previews, and the ability to tag friends in your work, school, and sports info are also new. While some features have been stripped out, profiles are now much more visually compelling. By increasing the prominence of biographical information and connections, Facebook has found a natural way to get users to share more.

The last profile redesign in mid-2008 merged the wall and activity feed and gave users the content publisher. Facebook has since split the publisher into tabs for different content types, increased the number of ads per page to four, and removed profile boxes and application tabs. The recently launched Friendship Page which displays mutual content and connections of two users, and the conversion of static interests into connections from f8 paved the way for the new design.

Opt-in Rollout

Facebook is currently pushing out the profile redesign through an opt-in system which should diffuse user protests. When visiting the profile of a friend who has upgraded, users are shown an invitation to “Get the New Profile”. Alternatively they can visit the new profile about page where they can view a video or screenshots explaining the changes. A facepile of friends who’ve upgraded provides a social recommendation for switching. Users can click to implement the redesign —  changing their own profile and making the profiles of their friends appear redesigned as well. From there, users are brought to their upgraded profile and given the option to take a tour of the changes. Once a user has upgraded, there doesn’t appear to be way to go back to the the old design.

New Features

Profile Info Summary

The top of a user’s profile shows a Profile Info Summary, which includes what Facebook says are “the kinds of conversation starters you share with people you’ve just met or exchange with old friends as you get reacquainted.” A user’s job position and employer, concentration and university, current city, relationship and with who, languages spoken, hometown, and birthday are all listed front and center.

Clicking the links of schools or workplaces opens the corresponding Community Page, unless it has been claimed and merged into an official Page. This means the Profile Info Summary won’t always translate into increased Page discoverability.

Many of the included characteristics can be targeted through the performance advertising system. It’s therefore in Facebook’s interest for users to provide and keep current this information. Prompts for users to enter absent information and the the increased visibility of these fields to a user and their friends should ensure this. Utility applications, especially recruiting apps such as BranchOut could also benefit from increased profile info accuracy.

This new section emphasizes the more stable elements of a person’s identity. This gives a more thorough understanding a user than the old design which gave more prominence to recent actions taken on Facebook. A user’s latest status update no longer appears at the top of their profile, making it more difficult to determine their current mood or activity.

Recently Tagged Photos

Recently Tagged Photos shows the five most recent photos a user was tagged in. Clicking one of the photos opens the light box view of the tagged photos album. This change makes photos other than a user’s profile picture immediately visible, providing a more balanced, long term look at that person’s identity.

In the tour of the redesign, Facebook stresses in bold that “privacy settings have not changed. Only people you’ve allowed to view photos you’re tagged in will see these photos.”

Users can click an ‘x’ in the top right corner of their own Recently Tagged Photos to hide that photo from the feature. Hidden photos are still visible within albums and the Photos tab. Facebook recently began allowing photo reordering within albums, but not for tagged photos. The Recently Tagged Photos hiding feature gives users more control over the first impression they give visitors to their profiles. Users should be aware that since tagged photos are subject to the uploader and their own privacy settings, their friends might not all see the same five photos.

The user profile picture has also had its width slightly reduced, from 200 pixels wide to 180 pixels wide.

Combined Navigation Panel

The links to navigate between a user’s wall, info, and photos which were previously in the top center of the profile have been moved to a panel below the profile picture. The combined navigation panel does centralize links, but also removes functionality and buries direct links to certain features and off-Facebook sites.

A user’s Questions and Notes, which could be optionally added as profile tabs, are also listed here in the navigation panel. There’s also new link to a dedicated “Friends” page, which replaces the “See All” button and pop up friends list from the old design. The old text links beneath the profile picture to message or a poke a user are now more visible buttons in the top right corner. A “Suggest Friends” button also appear in the top right corner of the profiles of users with few friends.

Gone are sections beneath the profile picture displaying a user’s most recently updated photo albums and shared Links. The About Me section, Likes, and a user’s website URLs have been moved to a new location within the Info navigation link. This decreases the prominence of explicit self expression, and reduces the likelihood that a user’s friends follow their links to blogs or profiles on other web services.

Users could previously highlight their upcoming Events, shared Links, and uploaded Videos by creating profile tabs for those categories. There appears to be no way to view all of a friend’s RSVPs or shared Links in the redesign. The link to a user’s tagged videos that used to be below the profile picture has been removed, and the only way to view these or their other uploaded videos is through links obscured inside the Photos navigation link.

Featured Relationships

Within the Relationships section of the profile editor, users can designate friends lists and Groups as their “Featured Relationships”. Up to three members from each selected list and Group plus ten people from the entire set of Friends appear beneath the combined navigation panel.

Users can create a new list or reorder their Featured Relationships from the profile editor. Friend Lists are private, but any Friend List a user adds to their Featured Relationships can be seen by anyone who can see their total set of friends.

Any Group without the “Secret” privacy setting can be added to Featured Relationships, which could be an interesting way of increasing discoverability of Groups. For instance, I could add my open SF Socialites Group to my Featured Relationships if I wanted people to request to join.

If users edit their romantic relationship status to connect them to a significant other such as their wife, fiancé, or boyfriend, this automatically creates a section a the top of the Featured Relationships chain. The section reads “[type of relationship] [to/with] [significant other’s name]”, or “Married to Sarah Bryant” for instance. This relationship status section can not be moved down the pane. By listing relationship status in both the Profile Info Summary and Featured Relationships, this information prominence has been significantly increased, which could prompt more users to confirm their real life romances on Facebook, which in turn helps advertisers target ads and Facebook sort the news feed.

If users add relationships with family members, such as two users confirming that they are brothers, this automatically creates a “Family” section at the bottom of the Featured Relationships pane of the profile. This does not create a traditional Friend List, since users can’t set “Family” as a distribution parameter for status updates or privacy settings, but they can reorder it the same way as other Friends Lists or Groups added to Featured Relationships. Family members were shown as text links at the top of the old Info tab of the profile, so it’s unclear how the added image and relocation to the bottom left of the primary profile view will affect the frequency with which users list family relationships.

Featured Relationships is similar to MySpace’s “Top 8″ feature which lets users show off their best friends. While useful for learning about who are the important people in someone’s life, Featured Relationships could cause drama for users who might be guilted or coerced into adding family members, significant others, or other friends.

Enhanced Profile Info

A user’s profile information can be augmented with descriptions and people they shared those experiences with. For instance, users can list projects they’ve worked on and when, tag friends that also worked on that project, and add descriptions of the projects within their employer info, or list classes they had in college or high school and tag friends who were classmates.

When a user is tagged in the profile info of someone else, the listing they were tagged in automatically appears in their profile and they receive a notification. Similar to photos, tags are opt out, meaning there is potential for users to abuse the feature by creating false tags of their friends. The ability to alter a friend’s work info may aggravate some Facebook users, since there isn’t a privacy control to prevent this. Facebook should consider allowing users to disable friends tagging them in profile info, similar to how Places tags by friends can be disabled.

There are also new “Sports” and “Philosophy” categories in the profile editor. Users can list sports they play, add a description, and tag friends they play with. There are also special sections for adding Likes of sports teams and athletes within Sports, and “People Who Inspire You” within philosophy. Teams, athletes, and people weren’t previously distinguished from the rest of a user’s uncategorized Likes.

The Philosophy and Sports sections are now the most prominent sets of Likes in a user’s profile, appearing above the “Arts & Entertainment” and “Activities and Interests” section. The change significantly improves discoverability for sports and people Pages and Open Graph objects. Some of these new profile info categories will likely become targetable by advertisers. Sporting goods manufacturers and retailers should be eager to aim ads according to what sports users play.

Visual Interests

Likes of certain Page and Open Graph object types now have their links accompanied with pictures in the Interests section of a user’s profile info. One row of five photos is shown for each category, and they can be expanded to show photos of all the Likes in that category. Pages having an attention-grabbing picture is now more important to discoverability.

The order in which the different Page categories appear in profiles has changed. Activities and Interests have been moved from the top of the list of Likes to the bottom, reducing their discoverability. Pages and Open Graph objects without type tags or which don’t fall into one of these eleven categories still appear folded up within a “Show Other Pages” link, and don’t show pictures when unfolded.

Friendship Page Previews

A preview of the Likes and connections a user has in common with a friend is shown at the top of the right sidebar of that friend’s profile. The preview includes a link to the full Friendship Page for the two users, which was located beneath a friend’s profile picture in the old design.

The preview can include up to two photos both users are tagged in, a facepile of up to seven mutual friends, the total number of mutual friends, Groups both users are members of, Events both are attending, and mutual Likes for different categories.

Conclusion

The profile redesign will help users learn more about their friends, project a more balanced impression of themselves, and remember to keep their own information up-to-date. However, the removal of the Events and Links profile sections are unfortunate and don’t seem necessary. Overall, Facebook has succeeded in making profiles more fun and informative to browse.

Pages as a whole will be easier to discover. Celebrities, politicians, sports teams, and athletes will gain the most from the redesign, whereas Activities and Interests such as websites, small businesses, and media outlets have either gained little or are slightly worse off. We’ll track the impact of the redesign on the growth of Pages in these categories over the coming months. Advertisers will have more information to target as users fill out their profiles more completely and discover more Pages.

Facebook has found a way to encourage users to provide valuable information and improve the accuracy of their existing data set. While its unclear exactly what some of the more precise data could be used for, the profile redesign strengthens Facebook’s positions as both a communication medium and a record of its users’ lives.