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Facebook's new apps filters lack polish

Facebook's latest feed filtering controls may be getting headlines, but they're not quite all they're cracked up to be.

By now everyone should have the new Facebook, a redesign the company is touting as a leap forward from the previous version. In case you missed Rafe's hands-on with it last week, and our report from the press briefing the week before, the gist is that you can now filter the flow of information by groups of friends, and by application. The problem is that as a main feature, the application filtering isn't quite polished--and it shows.

Instead of putting all the information into one big stream and letting users pick how much of each type of news they wanted to receive (which was the old system), Facebook's new system relies on a set of filters to whittle down the type of content you see. It includes shortcuts to its own "apps" like photos, links, video and notes, along with third-party applications Facebook knows you use often.

Facebook's application filters are nice, but not customizable enough. CNET

As of right now, you can't go out and specifically choose which of these third-party filters show up on the left-hand side of your home page. You can easily reorder where they show up in the list, but there's no way to search for new ones to add, or remove the ones that are on there, short of putting them out of sight from your main list. Compared to the Applications "start" bar, which hangs out on the bottom of the screen, it's a big step backward in terms of customization.

Facebook's introduction to the new stream feed made the mistake of describing a system where users can pick which applications they want filters for:

    By default, several common Facebook applications will be listed as filters. Users can choose additional applications from a drop-down list and add them as permanent filters. The applications that users and their friends frequently use and have multiple stories available for a user to view are most likely to appear in this list. This can be a great way for your application to gain additional visibility and usage.

Only problem is, the drop-down list that lets you choose which application filters isn't picked by you, it's picked by Facebook, and it's seemingly random. If you're a developer, you want your application here. It's where people used to launch applications from prior to the last redesign, and if a user can sort out only updates from your application--regardless of how recently a user's friends last used it, it might give you more uptake. Not to mention, if you have a favorite application you could quickly add it to this list to keep an eye on everyone's latest items.

A Facebook representative told me that while the company was not giving users a way to search for applications to add to the filters "it's something we're considering for the future." The good news is that you can "keep" applications that show up on this list, however it requires dragging them up above the grayed out line. This way they'll stay there the next time you log in, even if Facebook has updated them with new applications. In my case, logging out and back in again, and even switching to various feeds of friends did not refresh which applications showed up in that list, so Facebook may be rotating in applications at random.

Feature removal
Another gripe of mine about the updated news feed is that Facebook has gotten rid of the customization features that made it so insanely personalized. You can control the flow of information by lists of friends--a process that is simple to use, but time-consuming to set up--but gone are the sliders where you could control how much of each type of news you wanted, and who you were getting it from.

I doubt many users took advantage of these throttling controls, which is why Facebook likely got rid of them in favor of per-content filters, but for power users it was a great way to completely get rid of a certain type of news while still slurping in everything else all at once. Now, if you want to filter it you have to view just a certain type of news item and no others.

Along with those velocity controls, Facebook also got rid of the no-refresh-required live feed view, and the controls that let you limit what types of stories you wanted to monitor from certain people. You can no longer say that you don't want to see pictures or notes from someone, while continuing to pull in the rest of their updates. To a degree Facebook has built these into the new news feed, letting you "hide" people, although this is like scorching the earth when you could be pruning the hedges since it gets rid of ALL of the updates from that person.

In many ways Facebook has simply dumbed the feed down, which is great for mainstream users with a lot of friends, but it's sad to see some of that fine granular control go away--complete with all my old settings. Besides design, that was one of the things that really set Facebook apart from MySpace, and I'm sad to see it disappearing with each new feature release.