Developers, critics sound off on Facebook's profile redesign

Will members love Facebook's new look or hate it? Will it hurt small-time developers? Hard to tell, since all we've seen are screenshots.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read
A look at the tabbed interface that Facebook will be rolling out soon as part of its profile redesign. Facebook

On Wednesday, after months of nothing but ambiguous screenshots, Facebook finally talked about its upcoming site redesign. It'll make it easier for members to see immediate, dynamic updates from their network of friends, a company representative said, and it'll cut down on some of the profile clutter by distributing user information across a set of tabs rather than having it all on one page.

The big question: Will members like it?

"Any user interface changes, large or small, carry with them a certain risk," developer Kyle Bragger told CNET News.com, adding that big decisions can easily create more confusion. "Audience really should always be considered when making user interface decisions."

And considering Facebook has more than 70 million members, many of whom don't consider themselves particularly tech-savvy, a massive overhaul won't go over smoothly with everyone.

One developer who asked to remain anonymous speculated that members might not like the fact that you can no longer view a Facebook profile on a single page. "(It takes away) the user's ability to create a unique profile page that they identify with," he said. "Even your Twitter profile seems to do a better job of representing you these days."

Ultimately, it's hard to tell how the general response will be, especially since no one outside the company has tested the new design yet. Major changes to Facebook have a spotty history: Facebook members freaked out about the News Feed but welcomed the ability to spice up their profiles with developer applications, and while some prominent critics lambasted the Beacon advertising program, members as a whole didn't seem to care.

But none of those situations involved a total redesign that will put some information in different sections of the site and require users to click around in ways the site didn't before. "Completely switching up the profiles on people will be like upgrading Windows (from XP) to Vista," said Nick O'Neill, the blogger behind All Facebook. "I think Vista looks cool but I have no idea how to use any of the tools, (so) I stayed with XP." The problem is that Facebook members won't have a choice: everyone's getting the new design, like it or not.

Then there are the thousands of developers who have created applications for Facebook's platform and who will have a chance to test out the new design several weeks before the greater membership. Although the code for application creation isn't changing, the way that Facebook users interact with apps certainly will: posting to feeds and "walls" is different, and some applications will have their own browser tabs whereas others will be an additional click away. Some developers have already voiced concerns that Facebook's platform is dominated by "corporate" apps and that it's hard for an indie creation to catch on. With applications on separate tabs, it's inevitable that some will say this worsens the situation.

"Not all of the details have been announced for what changes need to be made. What is clear is that applications are going to need to readjust how their content is displayed." O'Neill said. It's true: a lot of information was left unsaid, including how it might tie into the extension of Facebook's API into Friend Connect. He estimated that some developers likely are "going to be forced to make substantial changes to their applications."

At the same time, some developers say they appreciate the fact that Facebook will now be able to convey more immediate information into "news feeds" that are more advanced, and are looking forward to an expanded profile environment that isn't crammed into a single page.

"Much, much better. More dynamic. More room for breathing," a developer who asked to remain anonymous told CNET News.com regarding the new design. "The older design was very constricted."