How to customize your Facebook page for free

Give Facebook a near-complete makeover by using the free Social Fixer add-on for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and other browsers not named Internet Explorer.

Social Fixer desktop theme for Facebook
The free Social Fixer browser add-on provides a wealth of customization options for your Facebook account. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Facebook is in the process of rolling out yet another interface revamp. As Sharon Vaknin described in a post earlier this month, the new look for the Facebook News Feed provides many new options for viewing your friends' posts.

You can add your name to the waiting list for the new-look News Feed, but you don't have to wait to enliven your Facebook page's appearance.

While the company provides only a handful of options for tweaking the look of your Facebook profile, Matt Kruse's free Social Fixer browser add-on (formerly named Better Facebook) takes Facebook customization to a new level. Social Fixer lets you update the social network's interface with a tabbed news feed, feed filters, image previews, and many other options. (For more information about the product, visit the developer's site.)

Facebook's built-in customization features
There's a boring sameness about Facebook profiles. Pretty much all you can do is add profile and cover photos, change what appears on your timeline, and tweak the contents of your news feed. The Facebook Help Center provides instructions for adding a profile picture and cover photo; adding, hiding, and deleting items on your About page; and customizing the content of your news feed.

There's also information in the Help Center that describes customizing the appearance of a Facebook Page. According to Facebook's Managing a Page section, Pages can be created only by people who are "the official representative of an organization, business, celebrity or band."

Not being an official representative of anything or anyone in particular, I'll have to leave the Facebook Page crafting to someone else, alas.

Give Facebook some personality with Social Fixer
Just because Facebook hasn't placed much emphasis on customization to date doesn't mean we're stuck with the layout and options the company offers. The Social Fixer browser add-on spiffs up your Facebook account with such features as news-feed tabs, feed filters that let you direct specific items to one of your tabs, image previews, and themes.

Social Fixer works with Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Opera, and other browsers, but not with Internet Explorer. I tested the Chrome version of the add-on. The first screen of the program's seven-step setup wizard lets you choose the recommended settings or a "minimalist" approach that turns off most of the add-on's features by default.

The option to place application and game posts in separate tabs on your news feed is selected automatically on the setup wizard's second screen. The third lets you customize the chat list by removing the chat sidebar and replacing it with the old pop-up chat list. You can also show all online friends on the chat list (this option is selected by default), or use a compact chat list that does away with thumbnail images.

Social Fixer's Facebook chat-list display options
During setup the Social Fixer browser add-on lets you select one of three options for viewing Facebook's chat list. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The fourth setup screen allows you to disable the "light box" or "theater" pop-up view for photos. I actually like Facebook's pop-up view for photos. Considering that the default option in Social Fixer is to retain the feature, many other people appear to like it, too.

The next setup option lets you view the full-size version of images when you hover over their thumbnails in any post or profile. The photo-preview setting is selected by default. One pet peeve of many Facebook users is addressed by the next Social Fixer option, which puts you on a new line when you press Enter while writing a comment rather than the Enter key posting the comment. Note that this option is deselected by default.

The setup wizard's last option lets you add a link to the Social Fixer news feed to Facebook's left pane.

Filter your feed, see which friends are online
After Social Fixer is installed, you'll notice tabs on your profile and news feed labeled Mark All Read, Show Hidden Posts, Mute All, Reload, and Undo. Social Fixer also reverts to showing the most recent posts on top, although a drop-down menu option allows you to switch back to having top stories appear first.

Click More under the main tabs to display the number of posts processed, hidden, filtered, moved to a tab, or reordered. Also displayed are the number of duplicate posts and the number of times the Older Posts option has been clicked.

Social Fixer tabs and stats for Facebook profiles and news feeds
Social Fixer adds buttons to the top of your profile and news feed that let you alter your view and see your recent post activity. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Social Fixer reorganizes the chat list on the right side of the Facebook screen to put your friends who are currently available at the top of the list rather than the default alphabetical listing. The big change is in the left pane, where navigation panels are added for the pages you've liked and upcoming events. The pane can be customized by adding links to your favorite destinations, among other options.

Click the wrench icon that Social Fixer adds to the top of the Facebook window and choose Edit Social Fixer Options to view dozens of check boxes, text boxes, and lists for altering the Facebook interface. In the Popular category are options for hiding Trending Articles and Trending Videos, automatically moving posts from Applications (games) to a separate tab (selected by default), and changing the default font size for posts and comments.

Social Fixer Popular options
Social Fixer's many options let you change the font size of posts and comments, move application posts to a separate tab, and otherwise customize your Facebook feeds. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Other Social Fixer options selected by default hide "Sponsored" stories from your news feed, change time stamps to their actual time rather than just "one hour ago," and disable auto-loading of posts as you scroll down. Perhaps the most powerful feature in the program is the ability to filter posts on your feed by user, type of post, and the presence of particular keywords. For example, you can create a filter that lets you read your sister-in-law's family news but blocks her posts discussing politics.

Social Fixer lets you view only new comments to old posts, see who has unfriended you, and apply one of a handful of themes or paste in a link to a third-party theme, although some third-party themes may not display properly. When I tested the program, not all the themes that ship with the app worked when I applied them in Chrome. You can also select a custom color scheme from a color palette.

It took no time at all to get used to Facebook with Social Fixer's many useful customizations. The hard part was switching back to the standard Facebook appearance in browsers that don't have the add-on installed. Hard as I try, I can't think of a down side to using the program.

Of course, a big question is whether Social Fixer will work with the new Facebook interface now being rolled out gradually. I'm hoping Mr. Kruse will figure out a way to let Facebook users revert to the old Facebook look if doing so is required for Social Fixer to work correctly.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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