From the Front Lines: Current Status of the Applications Menu

Most Facebook users have noticed the “updated” application menu system in the new Facebook by now. Although the current system is not set in stone, over the past few weeks the current application menu and bookmarking system has come under fire from developers on the Facebook Developer’s Forums.

Why? The new application bookmarking system has been pinned as a primary cause of developer uncertainty with the new design in recent weeks.

The Problem

The argument being offered by many developers is that the new system currently does not allow users to easily find applications they’ve already authorized/accessed – focusing most of the blame on Facebook’s relatively abrupt change to application bookmarks as the dominant way to access applications. This leaves users who accidentally leave an application before getting a chance to bookmark it without an easy way to find it again.

There are other (though less commonly used) methods with which users can find their favorite applications. For example, users can begin typing an application name into their search bar to go directly to that application. Second, profile tabs are another way to regain user engagement. However, while these alternatives exist, they are not adequate substitutes for a system in which users can access their applications in a fashion more similar to that of the old profile design.

Facebook’s Perspective

In a recent related bug report, Facebook’s Julie Zhou writes:

We’re working on improving the discoverability of bookmarking functionality as well as the clickthrough of the apps in the application dock. This is a top issue we’re working on, and we’re already running a few a/b tests to try and understand where users are falling off.

I want to address our thinking about the bookmarking functionality and why we chose explicitly not to put every authorized application in there. Basically, authorizing an application means a user is trusting the app with some amount of their information. Some apps need that additional information to work. Other apps don’t, and may be able to function completely based off of the information we give to all apps (like friends list, user id, etc.) We can’t lump bookmarking, which are an indication of a user’s desire to go back and use that application in the future, with the concept of permissioning.

So where is the middle ground between the current system where users bookmark applications manually and an overkill system where every authorized app appears in a user’s applications list?

Proposed Solution

Here is a modification to the system that solves both aforementioned problems. This was actually first introduced early in the Facebook redesign process when the application menu existed on the top menu bar, but was (for some reason?) removed when the applications menu shifted to the bottom menu bar.

Facebook should simply bring back a “Recently Used Applications” section of the applications menu. This list could feature no more than the 5 most recently used applications which haven’t already been bookmarked. This prevents clutter. In addition, users could bookmark applications by dragging them from the “Recently Used” list to the “Bookmarks” list.

This idea has the following benefits:

From a user’s perspective
1. It shows users an application they used recently but might have forgotten the name of or how to get to.
2. Frequently used applications will consistently show up in the “Recently Used” list, serving as a backup bookmarking system if the user doesn’t perform traditional “bookmarking.”

From a developer’s perspective
1. It promotes bookmarking by allowing users to quickly bookmark an app they’ve recently used by dragging and saving a few clicks.
2. It promotes bookmarking by making the very clear distinction between “bookmarks” and “just some application I tried” whenever they click on the apps menu.