Today I actually used Facebook for something. My partner wanted to find women’s networking groups online, and I suggested Facebook. Of course, she didn’t listen to me so I decided to have a look myself.
Immediately, I came up against a problem. I wanted to search for groups in London, but couldn’t find an easy way to do it. I’ve been giving training on Facebook recently so I’ve been waxing lyrical about the wonderful demographic data it contains. So surely an advanced search would be easy to do? After all, Facebook’s advertising does a nice job of opening up the demographics and helping you zero in on specific groups.
The answer, as is often the case with Facebook, was ‘Yes, sort of, but not very well’.
Facebook does have an advanced search, but it’s a beta application. You can find it at http://www.facebook.com/advancedsearch. Once you get onto it you’re prompted to complete your profile, which I skipped. Then you’re confronted with this page:
Three guesses what’s wrong with it. OK, I’ll tell you. It’s awful. It just looks… awful. There’s far too much text. And there are far too many buttons. I get dizzy just looking at it.
So, let’s try and look for networking communities for women in London. I have to look a few times before I realise the Pages button mentions ‘Business’ in between Bands and Celebrities. So I click it. And I get this:
Is that it?
What about all the other information you can specify for a business page?
What about address, town, phone number, email?
What about birthday (hang on, why is that even a field for a business page? See what I mean?)
What about website, personal information, personal interests?
And why am I being asked about cupcakes?
Maybe Facebook thinks it’s so clever that it doesn’t need to lay it all out for you. So why does it then do this when searching for a person? See what that screen looks like below.
Eurgh. What a mess.
I have a theory about Facebook. I think they don’t really know what they’re doing. People give Google a lot of stick nowadays but whenever they update their software, it just slots in elegantly. You find new functions without looking. Everything is in its right place, because – I think – they design things properly from the outset. Which makes it easy to build on that solid design.
Facebook, on the other hand, seems to be thrown together. They don’t have a coherent design policy.
I used to design interfaces for a living. I was no Jonathan Ive, but I’d try and think about the best way for someone to interact with a page, and then challenge the programmers to make it work. I’d try and keep it consistent and think about how it might develop in the future, so it could have functionality added without a design change.
I have a strong feeling that Facebook does this the other way around. The programmers take what’s available and challenge the users to make it work. They are to online application design what Microsoft is (or was) to local application design. That is, the design follows the tech. It’s just wrong. Ask Apple.
But who knows. Perhaps by the time it comes out of beta it’ll be slick, easy, intuitive. If so, it’ll be running against the grain of everything else Facebook does.