Facebook Photo Viewer: In Focus

People who've had a chance to try Facebook's new photo viewer are forming strong opinions about it, so let's take a closer look at those areas that the new photo viewer aims to improve.

Facebook has made its new photo viewer official, although the feature had been available to a small portion of people for a few weeks. With over 100 million photos uploaded to the social network every day, images are core to the social network experiences. Yet, like the site’s developer blog pointed out, “it’s supported by some of the oldest code in the system and was in dire need of an upgrade.” People who’ve had a chance to try the new feature are forming strong opinions about it, so let’s take a closer look at those areas that the new photo viewer aims to improve.

Pop-Up Design

The pop-up design consists of a large, light box overlay that is at once the most shocking new feature. It accomplishes two things: bombarding the senses, while allowing you to not have to leave the actual page you were looking at before. In other words, if you click to enlarge a picture from your news feed or from a friend’s photo album, the picture — along with its comments, likes, tags, and the sharing link — simply pop-up into a new window (not a new browser window, I should add). When you’re done with the image, you close the screen and you’re back where you had started. This comes as an improvement for those people who used to find themselves inadvertently sucked into someone’s entire photo album when only wanting to look at one image.

The new window looks a lot like the inside of a movie theater the way the off-black background surrounds the image space. That’s a powerful effect when you’re looking at beautiful pictures, although some people might not be comfortable with it.

Liking, Commenting

The decision to leave the “like” button on the black box instead of down on the white area below is a little puzzling. One the one hand, it makes the button more prominent, but on the other it takes a bit of personality away from one of the most powerful and beloved Facebook icons. I mean, the “like” button is supposed to be blue and white! Changing the colors to black and grey verges on brand confusion.

As for commenting, the icon itself sits comfortable atop and right next to the “like” button, but the actual commenting box and the way comments display continue to appear in the old-fashioned way. The important difference that most people may not notice is that now the comments show up in the center of the page, finally giving the threads a little more prominence.

It’s interesting that Facebook decided not to revamp this area further, given how important comments are to the photo viewing experience. Comments are still relegated to the bottom of the page, and are now even more completely overshadowed by the spectacular size of the photo itself and the huge lightbox overlay. The new viewer also doesn’t solve the fact that if there is a long thread of comments, one has to scroll down and away from the picture itself. What do you think about this?

Tagging Photos

Tagging photos has become more visually engaging, although not necessarily easier nor more complicated. The instructions on how to tag someone are now seamlessly integrated into the box, right next to the “like” and “comment” buttons. The “done tagging” link is also more easily accessible.

When you actually go and click on someone’s face to tag them, a black-and-white, thick box prompts you to enter the name of whoever you’re thinking about. When I toyed with this last night, I thought it looked really cool and 21st-century-like. In broad daylight, I’m not so sure. Again, while the lightly faded black background works for me when looking at the picture itself — for the movie theater effect — it keeps getting in the way of other small stuff that add to some of the most important reasons why people like sharing photos on Facebook.

Tagging photos is an essential part of the viewing experience not only because it allows others to add pictures of yours that they appear in to their own photo collection. Tags can also enable people to make statements or a jokes about someone — for instance, tagging your ex on a donkey’s face. In other words, it’s an important tool for interaction.

However, the new tagging certainly didn’t present any problems for me on the technical side. Again, I’m handing this one over the the people: What do you guys think? Like the tagging box? Cute or tacky?

Loading Speed

I haven’t had any problems with this and in fact think the pictures, considering how big they are now, load pretty fast. However, I’ve read a lot of people complaining about how slow the new layout is for them. It would be interesting to hear from people all around the world, and with different kinds of Internet connections. Do you notice a difference in load times between the old and the new photo viewer?


All in all, the new photo viewer makes a bold statement about the importance of sharing and viewing photos on Facebook. The social network has made a concerted effort to make it an arresting visual experience. The change is fairly radical, but not so for comments, which continue to be an appendix to the photo, instead of being given the attention they deserve. I’m not convinced about the changed color scheme for the “like” button while most other icons continue to be shown in their old form, but perhaps that’s something transitional.

What do you think about the new photo viewer: Do you love it, hate it or something in between?