There’s been much ado about Facebook’s new profile pages. Facebook noticed people like pictures. So they added lots of pictures, hoping of course to hijack our attention completely, while they slide ads into our peripheral vision. But just because it’s more compelling, does that mean the new interface will actually work? I think not.

When I worked at Intuit, I was fascinated by our usability studies. We watched real customers use our products. They never used them the way we thought they would. I grew to believe interfaces should mirror how people think about the tasks they’re trying to accomplish. This sounds obvious, but it’s really tough to do. Here’s my reaction to Facebook’s new look, based on how I think about my own Facebook usage. You decide whether the new profile will make me more productive.

For the task of “cruise my friend’s friends so I can see which ones are hot,” this new interface is superb. But for the task of “see what my friend’s interests are” or “see what music my friend listens to” or “see what my friend’s been up to,” this interface loses.

The problem is that the pictures are 100% ad hoc. They give no information, other than being pretty. When I scan someone’s page, rather than noticing a familiar name (“we have friends in common!”), I have to hope that our common friend put in a clear, instantly recognizable picture. Especially on “make your profile pic your favorite silent movie star” type days, that is rarely so. For people whose name I know but who I’ve only seen once or twice visually, the picture is also useless. (This last category is much larger than you’d think, in this day of digital communication.)

As far as pictures/icons for common interests? Useless. I couldn’t tell you what the icons are for any of the common interest pages, and since there are hundreds of thousands of such pages, I’m not likely to learn them any time soon. It’s the text that conveys the information.

So as far as I can tell, facebook profiles have now been reduced to “Hot or Not” galleries. I guess that’s fine if you’re looking for a hookup, but for any actual interaction, there just isn’t enough information easily conveyed to be worth much.

Will the New Interface Work for Business?

Facebook is used big-time for marketing. I think this interface makes Facebook considerably less useful for a business. The limited status updates give me less chance to keep in touch with customers and business audiences. My Facebook use is driven by my desire to form a relationship with my audience and build a content-based relationship. If my ability to push real content is reduced in favor of just sharing pictures, my overall Facebook usage is likely to decline.

I could be wrong for all of this. Looking forward to reading your thoughts. This UI change is interesting. I’ll be curious to see how it plays out.

Facebook’s new UI: Productive? Failure?

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