Facebook users to accept new digs


Imagine coming home from work to find your house in a different color, the rooms switched around and the furniture rearranged.

That’s the virtual equivalent Facebook users have faced, or will face, as the online hangout forces its 90 million members to adapt to a redesigned site, unveiled in late July. Beginning this week, users’ profiles will be irrevocably migrated to the new site.

And the changes are being met with a mix of protest and resignation.

Facebook’s main purpose for redesigning was to declutter, and the makeover is noticeable. Instead of finding a glut of information on a single profile page, personal news and photos are split up into tabbed pages. Also, third-party applications are more hidden.

Still, it’s unlikely that the dissatisfaction with the redesign will trigger a mass defection from Facebook to a competing social networking site, such as MySpace or Bebo. Instead, people will get used to the new digs, a now-common phenomenon as people reliant on the Web are at the mercy of designers who change the look and usage of sites as they see fit.

“Like anything, you have to get used to it, so there’s always that period where you can’t find things,” said 28-year-old Mike Kelly of Chicago, who’s been playing with the new Facebook since it debuted. “The functionality has actually improved. … I have heard a couple people complain, but I think that’s just growing pains.”

The transition, which started Wednesday, will take about a week. Users of Internet Explorer 6 are still unable to access the new site, an issue that Facebook said will be resolved in the coming days.

Since unveiling the redesign, Facebook allowed its users to toggle between the two versions or just stick with the old one. In the last month of testing, thousands of users have joined online groups and signed petitions asking Facebook to either dump the new site or continue giving them a choice between the versions.

Facebook has faced member mutiny before. It backed down last year after users balked at an advertising-related feature that shared data about their external activities, such as online shopping.

But social media experts point out that the previous controversy centered on privacy, a weightier issue than the largely cosmetic changes now taking place. Between setting up a new profile on a different site or living with a redesigned Facebook, users likely will opt for the latter.

“I already can’t remember what the old Facebook looked like,” said Chicagoan Karrie White, 27, who had minor quibbles with the new version but said there is “no way” she would jump to MySpace. “Things change; we get used to them. I’m sure they’ll change again too.”

Web analytics firm Compete found that users trying the new version were gradually moving toward using only the redesigned site. During the last few weeks of August, roughly 60 percent of Facebook members stayed on the new version rather than click back to the old site.

Compete analyst Becky Bitzenhofer said resistance is to be expected.

“With everything Facebook does that shows it as being more public and people having easier access, [core users] freak out and they do forget it’s Facebook and not their own site,” Bitzenhofer said.

Unlike Facebook’s abrupt introduction in 2006 of the “News Feed,” which summarizes friends’ updates in a continually updated stream, the site rolled out its redesign slowly and asked for user feedback.

Stratton Cherouny, creative director at Chicago-based Web development firm Gorilla, said such precautions are crucial for a popular site such as Facebook, which is “something you’re really familiar with and is a social space.”

Some critics of the redesign may follow the route of Ben Parr, who formed one of the original groups against the News Feed while he was an undergraduate at Northwestern University.

In response to the outcry, the site added privacy options to the News Feed. Two years later, the 23-year-old said he “couldn’t imagine Facebook without it” and considers it one of the site’s biggest benefits.

“I’m glad they’re telling Facebook they’re upset about certain things,” Parr said of the users protesting the redesign. “Facebook does listen, and they’ll probably change some things.

“But most of all, you have to give things time.”

(c) 2008, Chicago Tribune
Distributed by McClatchy Information Services.