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Facebook’s 5 missing features

Monday, 27 April 2009 — by

Facebook is the social network. And love it or loathe it, if you want to connect to friends, family, colleagues or clients, to share everything from videos and photos to just fanciful thoughts and precious ideas, Facebook is the place to be. However, if you want to use Facebook seriously, there are some seriously big features missing from Facebook…

Facebook logoI have very mixed feelings when it comes to using Facebook, mostly because there are some very obvious and notable absentee features that make Facebook, shall we say, problematic to use in the way I’d prefer.

All work and play — different sets for different people

As an example, I have an eclectic mix of people as friends on Facebook — including family, friends, colleagues and clients. I’m sure there are others out there just like me, but the problem is, I’m absolutely sure some of my clients don’t want to see photos of me and the lads on a night out, and similarly, the guys don’t want to see the articles I’m sharing with clients regarding work-related topics.

Facebook needs a way to group people into distinct sets (not Groups, because that’s something else entirely) whereby I can control what each set of people see. So friends, family and clients are in their own sets, each oblivious to what’s going on in those other sets.

In this scenario, when I’m tagged in a photo or a video by a mate of mine from a specific set, that photo and video will not appear to family or clients. And, articles I write or find and then post to my profile regarding work, technology, science, social media et cetera, don’t appear in the sets for family and friends.

Tagging shared items

By far the biggest problem with Facebook is information overload. The problem wouldn’t be as bad if all of what appears on my home page was relevant, but the vast majority isn’t. No offense guys, but there’s a lot of stuff you like that I just don’t!

An exceptionally easy way to sort information is to use tags. So when we add a photo, a video or a link, we also get the option to add some tags. Once added, I can then filter information in or out, based on the tags I feel are important to me.

In one fell swoop, the amount of information is vastly reduced. I’m sure we could allow some kind of minimal item that says something like: “John Smith posted 11 items today”, for those people whose tags we don’t subscribe to, to ensure they don’t get forgotten.

A group chat option

I like Facebook’s chat, which is a simple alternative to MSN Messenger or Skype. However, now that we can share the things we find on Facebook, and since Facebook’s Connect service is really beginning to take a hold, we need group chat on Facebook, so we can chat with more than one person at a time:

“Facebook now have this option that embeds their share and comment options at the top of web pages and blog articles linked to from Facebook. What if you could do that, but include their chat tool, too?

Better yet, what if their chat tool linked to their Connect service, letting you chat with anyone who was on the same web page or blog article you were?”

Step out of the lime light — de-tagging photos and videos

Just because I’m in a photo or a video, doesn’t mean to say I want others that weren’t there to see them. I want an option to de-tag myself and stay de-tagged.

This goes right back to the family-friend-client thing; there are some photos and videos that are inappropriate for some people to see. I see this as an invasion of my privacy and I want the option to not be included.

Every time someone tags us in a photo or a video, we see this appear in the Notifications button on the bottom right of the Facebook tool bar. All that’s needed is an option that says something along the lines of: “Do you wish to be tagged?”

I personally find it extremely odd that we are forced into being tagged and not given a choice to opt out.

Update: as highlighted by Carla in the comments, the option to remove a tag of yourself in photos and videos does exist. However, the option is after the fact, that is to say, you’ve already been tagged at this point, regardless of you wanting to be tagged or not. Just to reiterate my earlier point, the process is wrong and should be: 1. a person tags you, which does not appear until, 2. you authorize the tag manually.

Sensible URLs for our profiles, Pages and Groups

We’re now seeing people and businesses using Facebook for serious purposes. The one thing that undermines our profiles, Pages and Groups is the computerized URLs we see for those items.

I have a Page for the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, whose URL sort of looks sensible enough, until you see the almost random stream of numbers towards the end.

We need sensible URLs, that are:

  1. easy for people to remember, write down or tell to someone else, and;
  2. are also good for the search engines (SEO) so people can find us on the web, too.

Of course, as anyone who’s performed a search on Facebook will attest, there are often many, many people with the same names. But I’m sure some geographic specificity would help sort such things out.

Let’s face it, the guys behind Facebook aren’t exactly stupid, so I have every confidence they could figure something out.

Conclusion…

Facebook is big and it’s getting bigger all of the time. What we’re seeing are the signs of growth and the pain that comes with such rapid growth.

While it’s not possible to please all of the people all of the time, there are some prerequisites that would certainly go a long way, and these five are amongst those very things…

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Heidi Cool → Monday, 27 April 2009 @ 17:15 BDT

All great ideas Wayne. Facebook tries to be so much that it’s still almost as cluttered as my house. I especially liked the idea of sets and tags.

My Facebook friends tend to be, people I know from Case Western Reserve, close friends, other Clevelanders I know through social media or local organizations, people I’ve gotten to know fairly well via Pownce/Twitter/FriendFeed and now most recently, my mom.

I don’t actually spend a great deal of time on Facebook. Basically I go there when I get an e-mail about a friend request or some other message that’s worth investigating. Yet most of my FB friends don’t know this. I’ve set up Facebook to include my Google Readershare and Delicious bookmark feeds in my stream.

While I can’t imagine that most of my real world friends want to hear about whatever Webdev/tech/social media/bacon stuff I happen to be sharing, I have gotten emails from a few saying they’re glad that I post it. Since most aren’t social media savvy they don’t even realize it’s happening automatically as a by product of my regular routine. They think I’m an avid FB user, when typically I just glance at their status messages in Tweetdeck.

What they also don’t know is that I draw the line at Twitter. I could tie that to Facebook and have my Tweets update my status message, but that would then cause real confusion. While there is a bit of crossover, I really see my Facebook and Twitter friends as being different audiences so I like to keep my status messages and Tweets separate. But like you I now find that I have several different audiences within Facebook. So you’re idea of sets and tags would be a very good solution.

I’d very much like to be in people’s “don’t send me crazy new FB applications set!”
Cheers.

Carla → Tuesday, 28 April 2009 @ 14:10 BDT

Yeah, those application invitations can be quite annoying.

Anyhow, Facebook does have a grouping option. They call it Friends Lists. What you do is create specific lists with different people then you control which list sees what via your privacy options. For instance, you can create a Co-workers List which would of course contain your co-workers. You then customize the privacy settings for that list to limit the information accessible to those people. For example, you can choose to hide your photos, notes, wall posts, etc., then your co-workers will not be able to see any of those items. Friend’s List also makes it easier to send messages to a group of people. All you do is type the List in the ‘To:’ box instead of each person’s name and your message will go out to that group of people.

Furthermore, Friend’s Lists helps you to control what is shown in your news feed. When you go to your home page, you will see your Friends Lists included in the filter options on the left side of the page. If you click on the name, the news feed will display updates from people in that list only.

Another way to control what is shown in your news feed is to use the ‘hide’ option. If you move your cursor over the right side of a post, you will see a hide link pop up. Just hit that button and future updates by that person will not come up on your feed. This is reversible plus if, at some point, you want to know what’s going on with them, you can always visit their page.

You can detag yourself from a photo, video, note, etc. Just go to the particular item, look for your name and hit detag. Hopefully the person will get the message and not re-tag you. Also, via the privacy option, you can choose to hide any item tagged with you so that if someone does tag you in a photo, video, etc. then none of your friends or networks will see it.

You can do searches based on geographic location but it is dependent on who you are searching for and if they have their location displayed. Many people opt not to include a specific location on their profile pages so it makes it harder to identify them in a search. Facebook probably wont override this in the near future owing to their new privacy policies. If someone doesn’t want to identify where they are, then that info will stay hidden.

I have to say though that a group chat option is a very good idea. That is something I would definitely use. I also agree with you that they should have sensible URLs. It would make things a lot simpler.

Ken the tech → Tuesday, 28 April 2009 @ 22:25 BDT

The worst thing of all social networks is that you need to keep in mind so many things, discussions, friend names, etc.
Or maybe is just me, I am getting older :(

Wayne Smallman → Tuesday, 28 April 2009 @ 22:47 BDT

H, I’m with you on the Twitter crossover; that to me is also confusing.

Hi Carla, thanks for the comment!

I’ve had friends lists since they were first introduced and there are no options to control what those lists see in the same way I outlined above. I’ve just had another look (just for you) and I can’t find anything like what you’re describing.

I have since found the “remove tag” option, after much searching. Yes, it’s there, but it’s poorly positioned and not obvious.

Thanks again.

Ken, you’re not on your own! I think the problem is most likely the same for everyone.

We naturally set quality brain space aside for the people we know and love the most. But as is often the case, we have dozens and sometimes hundreds of friends!

Carla → Tuesday, 28 April 2009 @ 23:40 BDT

Hi Wayne, thanks for having another look :)

Here’s how you do it: go to the privacy page and click on profile. You’ll see a list of settings you can manipulate. For any setting, select customize and a “Who Can See This?” box will pop up. At the bottom of the box, you’ll see an “Except for These People” option which allows you to enter a specific name or a list. When you enter the name/list, those people will be not be able to see the information related to that setting. You’ll notice that you can basically control every bit of info on your profile page.

Happy Facebooking :)

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 29 April 2009 @ 8:07 BDT

Hi Carla! Yes, I’ve see those options, but as I said in the article and in my last comment, those options are good enough, which is why I proposed additional options.

Ed Harris → Saturday, 16 May 2009 @ 23:12 BDT

I hear Facebook is going to be coming out with a video option…kind of like Skype. I’m curious as to how they will integrate it.

dhruv → Tuesday, 14 December 2010 @ 14:06 BDT

See, why don’t we try to build our ow application of group chat on Facebook. I don’t think that will be an issue. Medium rate web developers can easily do that.

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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