One-on-one with the guy who built Facebook's Home

Adam Mosseri, the social network's director of product, sat down with CNET and told us about the little details hidden inside Facebook's new Android abode.

Adam Mosseri at the launch of Facebook Home on April 4, 2013 in Menlo Park, Calif. James Martin/CNET
If Facebook Home, the company's family of applications that make the social network unavoidable on Android devices such as the HTC First , had an architect, it would be Director of Product and project lead Adam Mosseri.

CNET sat down with Mosseri on Thursday after the company lifted the curtain on Home. Mosseri proved a lively interview subject. He didn't completely divert away from our first serious question as to why anyone would want this much Facebook in their phone, and he admitted that if you don't want to see the feed all the time, then this isn't the product for you.

He also spoke openly of how unfinished a product Home is; he seems to have a predilection for Jessica Alba; he really appreciates the subtleties of enhancing the experience through sound; and he isn't apologizing about ads coming to Cover Feed. And based on Mosseri's words, it sounds as if ads will be just as prevalent -- or obnoxious, as some would say -- as they already are on the desktop.

What follows is an incomplete transcript of Mosseri's answers to our questions with some of our rambling dialogue edited out.

Q. There's the argument that this is so much Facebook -- like way too much Facebook . Who wants this? What would you say to that?
Mosseri: The way we think about it is a little different. We don't think about it as Facebook. We think about it as your friends' content. We're really trying actively to get out of the way and put people's content first.

So we're seeing, like we said in the presentation, a ton of use on Facebook -- over 20 percent of people's time spent on apps on Facebook. If you add Instagram, it's over 25 [percent]. So that, to us, is a signal that people care about what their friends are doing and saying, and the photos they're posting, and where they're checking in, and all of that.

So this content is much more prominent, but Facebook is less prominent. There's no logo. There's no blue bar...There's no anything. So we're kind of getting out of the way. If you don't want to see the feed all the time, then it might not be for you.

But what we tried to do today, though, is keep it really simple and really elegant, so it's just one story at a time. It's not like you're getting a whole bunch of stories all at once, all the time. The majority of the time you open up your phone, you see the time, and then you just see a story. If you're interested in the story, great...but if you're not interested, you can launch an app as you normally would. We just think about it that way.

Mosseri pans through Cover Feed and "likes" a piece of content, which results in a cute, little bloop-like sound. He laments that he wasn't able to demonstrate the noises during the live announcement.

Talk to me about the noises.
Mosseri: We only have a few; there's not too many. So when you use your profile picture you get a couple of different ones.

We try to be really judicious about sound usage, because sound usage could be really annoying. But we also want the experience to feel really delightful.

We want the experience to be playful and fun. We want to facilitate the like. And sometimes, in the right moments, sound can really help sort of augment that. But sometimes, if it's overused, it can be...annoying.

When you start up app launcher or open up messenger, you get a simple click [sound].

Did you do user testing on that?
Mosseri: We do user testing on everything, but we didn't have a test for, like, "what do you think of these sounds?"

We do two different things. Well, we do a lot of things, but two things are particularly important. We had regular user tests...come in and use the product, and we got a sense for the pain points, what was working, what was not.

And we also do what we internally call "dogfooding." It's kind of a terrible expression, but it's pretty common. But we had employees use the software for a long time. For about two or three months, we had a group of employees, roughly 100, using the software every day as their primary phone.

We get a whole bunch of good data from them. We can see how they're using the product, how often they're using it, what's happening, what's not, are likes going up, are the likes going down. And then they belong to a group where they provide their feedback, and they're very vocal about what they like and what they don't like. We have researchers who comb through all the quantitative and qualitative data, and then look for patterns and bubble them up. We do this for all of our new products.

What didn't they like?
Mosseri: They didn't like that the content in Cover Feed was stale, but it turns out we had a bug so we weren't showing new content. So we fixed it.

One thing that we do is we make sure that if you've seen [a piece content], we try not to show it to you again, but we had a bug where we were forgetting that you had seen it, which means you would see it again.

What's the algorithm behind Cover Feed?
Mosseri: For ranking, [Cover Feed] uses the same engine, it's a little different because we only show you one story at a time.

The same algorithm that figures out how important something is, we use and the normal News Feed does. We also use whether or not you've seen it before, which we only know on the client (smartphone). We also use whether or not the image is loaded. So it might be the best possible story, but if there's no photo yet, we don't want to show you a loading indicator. We should show you something that's loaded first. So there's a couple of different augmentations.

We also have a slightly different set of stories. We don't have design yet for friending stories or video stories or ads, but those things will come over time.

What about filtering the News Feed the way people can do with new News Feed?
Mosseri: We have not explored that yet, and we'll certainly explore it. I do not know if it will make sense or not. But we're always looking at ways to improve the product, and that's a cool idea, so we'll certainly consider it.

How do ads make sense in this experience? How do you envision someone wanting to download Facebook Home if they're going to be presented with ads in this personal environment?

Mosseri acknowledged that people may not want ads in such a private, personal space.

Mosseri: [We think about ads in Facebook Home] the same way we think about ads in all News Feeds. We've been working on designing really high-quality ads for all feed products. This is another feed product so it should work the same way by extension. We will make sure that any ads in there will match the other stories aesthetically and in terms of their quality level, so they should feel pretty inline and pretty good.

Does that mean ads are going to be in Cover Feed?
Mosseri: Yeah. Absolutely. Here's something else: Today, already, Pages have content in Cover Feed.

Jessica Alba has an awesome Page. She's really good at using Facebook. So, like, if I follow Jessica Alba, she'll show up in here. A lot of [celebrities] have other people do all of their [Facebook posts]. She just posts goofy stuff of herself, and I just think her fans really love it. That kind of stuff would show up in here. So I follow the Steelers because I'm a football fan. That stuff shows up in here.

A lot of ads are just Page posts.

But are you only going to do Page posts though?
Mosseri: I don't know what the units are going to be. We're going to only do the units that make sense though. I haven't thought it through...We can't take one of the units that is a tiny little image with text and put it here. It just doesn't work. So we have to figure out what all the ad units are, which are the ones that can work here, and how can we make them good. And we'll do that.

Conversation slightly derails into talk about Boo, only the world's cutest dog, of course.

Basically, we think about [ads] the same way we think about ads in any other product...the same way it works in the new News Feed design and the old News Feed design. You get an ad. It's marked as such. You know what it is. If you like it, great. If you don't, swipe by.

What about ads in chat heads?
Mosseri: I haven't even thought of that.

So you said that video is coming soon...
Mosseri: Oh yeah, I think video would be great.

What would it be like?
Mosseri: I don't know. I have to figure it out. Sounds pretty cool. Imagine you swipe and you get a big, awesome Vimeo video.

If you swipe, and you just saw a big screenshot of [a video] and there was big play button in the middle and you could just tap it and it would zoom out...hide everything else. Maybe you long-press it, because that's how you get to the full image. Same idea. I don't know. But seems like a pretty cool experience.

There are less videos in News Feed than there are photos, status updates, and all the other story types that we already support, but there's a few percent of feed that are videos, so we'll do those.

Do you have a time table for video?
Mosseri: For videos specifically? No. We are shipping every month. We have to get this out the door first, and then we have to work through all of the things that we didn't get through and prioritize them.

What's the next highest priority?
Mosseri: I don't know what's the next highest priority, but there's a lot of things that we want to do. We want to do...one great thing that we can talk about a bit is the buddy list. So there's no buddy list in chat heads or in Home...What if you want to make [a chat head]? You have to go to Messenger. That's kind of a bummer. There's probably a better way to do that.

More story types for Cover Feed. Definitely. Probably better notifications. Maybe they're more immersive. Maybe like if you have one that's bigger and you can see the photo more. I don't know. We could do a whole bunch of things there.

Does the chat function include stuff that's already available?
Mosseri: Same thing. We basically took the thread from Messenger and wrapped it in a smaller, lighter container and made it into a chat head.

Whatever you can do in Messenger, based on your country and what version of the app you have, you can do it in chat head.

What are some hidden features that people don't know about?
Mosseri: One is...a quick way to get rid of a chat head. So we want you to be able to use it with just one hand...You tap [the chat head] to open it up, now you've got that open. Now to close it...Instead of having to reach up, we've made it so that you can just grab the bottom and flick it up. We've got a lot of little details where we try to make it easy.

If you drag your profile picture you can just keep on moving it...You have to always have a finger on the screen...and then when you let go, it [drops back.] It's all like physicals. We try to base it all on the real world.

Also, you can close a chat head by dragging it all the way down and letting it go, but if you grab it and just flick it down, it gets caught. You don't have to drag it all the way down. You just have to flick it fast and it finds it. There's a lot of little shortcuts like that.

Are there any privacy implications here that people need to be aware of?
Mosseri: Privacy is the same as it is anywhere else [on Facebook]. There are a couple of things that we do to make sure that people have a lot of control.

One: This experience is opt-in. We don't turn it on for all Facebook users. You just have to decide. You have to download it or buy the phone. Two: If you use a keycard, like a PIN code, we respect that. So as soon as you launch an app, you'll get the PIN code before you can launch the app. Or if you want to read a message, you have to hit the PIN code before you can see the full thread.

I thought if you had the lock screen on you can still see the content?
Mosseri: You can still see content, but you can't launch an app. So as soon as I hit, say, Path, I'd get prompted.

Three: If you don't want someone to even see content, we built this little Home settings app, and you can just say, "I don't want to see Home when the screen turns off." So you can turn if off for the lock screen. It can just be a home screen.

And four: In the Home settings app, there's a "Turn off Facebook Home" -- it's the first setting. If you try this and it's not for you, it's as easy as possible to get rid of it.

But can you uninstall it?
Mosseri: Yeah. You can even uninstall it on the HTC first.

 

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