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As with life, the only constant you can expect from Facebook is change. Starting from yesterday, the global social network will be rolling out a new design for its most important building block – the personal profile page.
It’s a mark of the influence of the site that founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new design on 60 Minutes, still one of the USA’s most respected current affairs shows. Then again, when you have an audience of nearly 600 million people, CBS’s 12-million strong audience probably doesn’t seem all that daunting.
So what should we expect from the design?
1. First things first
Your vital statistics – things like where you live, where you work and where you went to school – have been moved right to the top of your profile. The aim is to give someone a snapshot of who you are – much like what you say when you “meet someone in a bar” as Zuckerberg himself puts it.
Just beneath this info is a row of the most recent photos in which you’ve been tagged. “People like photos,” Zuckerberg notes, in his trademark glib manner. And he’s right – there’s no quicker way to see what you’ve been up to at a glance than this strip of photos.
2. Browse friendships, not just friends
One of the most innovative new features in the new design is the ability to see a summary of your relationship with any of your friends. And it’s not just the obvious stuff like mutual friends – this new page digs up all the photos in which you’re both tagged, all the things you both like and all events you’ve both attended. The whole effect is like a digital timeline of your friendship.
3. Rank your interests…
Most people “like” several dozen or even several hundred things on Facebook. The new profile lets you choose which of these you want to highlight, and gives them icons. The aim, as with the rest of the upgrade, is to give you finer control over what your profile says about you – both literally and figuratively.
4. …and your friends
Back when MySpace still ruled the social networking roost, your “top friends” was a serious political choice – a matter for intense consideration. Who would you add to the magical eight, and who would you leave out? Luckily social networking has grown up since then, helped in part by years of randomised friends lists on Facebook.
Why then, has Facebook introduced this feature after ignoring it for so long? Because this ranking is based around real relationships – this is my mom, this is my life partner – and not around teenage popularity contests.
5. Getting specific
The new profile page lets you describe exactly what you get up to, and with whom. You can now list specific activities and interests, and which of your friends you share them with. In my case I’ve listed that I play squash and which of my friends, like Matt and Chris, I play with.
The more powerful and simpler interface also allows you to quickly and easily define everything from your personal philosophy to your favourite sports stars. Facebook’s powerful auto-suggestion feature has never looked or performed better.
But my profile looks exactly the same as yesterday?
Facebook is rolling the new design out slowly, and says that everyone should have it by “early next year”. If you can’t wait, you can jump the queue and activate the new design here.
The bigger picture
Why is Facebook doing this? On the one hand it is making the profile more useful, tidier and easier to navigate – all great user benefits. On the other hand it is insidiously encouraging all of us to reveal yet more about ourselves. That means yet more rich connections, yet more fine grained detail with which to target adverts, and yet more lovely cashflow.
You have to hand it to Zuckerberg and his buddies – they play the game extremely hard and extremely well. And if you were really worried about privacy, you wouldn’t be on Facebook anymore, would you?