Facebook's major overhaul of its core member profile pages is a risky but necessary move for the world's second-largest online social network, according to several developers of popular applications for the site.
The move is risky because Facebook will alter the user interface significantly, which can clash against people's natural resistance to change and prompt them to complain.
In addition, for some developers, particularly those new to the platform, the new profile design may limit the visibility of their applications, affecting their ability to build a user base.
"The redesign seems an overall step forward, but it will definitely have speed bumps from an actual implementation standpoint," said Tim O'Shaughnessy, cofounder and CEO of Hungry Machine.
However, with the explosive growth in members and in applications on Facebook, the average member profile interface has become very cluttered, a situation that harms end users and developers alike.
"Facebook is a social [networking] operating system, and the profile is your entry point and your desktop. The utility of that [desktop] interface becomes less and less useful to the end user as it gets more and more cluttered," said Shervin Pishevar, cofounder and CEO of Social Gaming Network (SGN). Thus, taking a bold step to clean up the member profile interface is a logical and natural enhancement for Facebook to make, he said.
Facebook has been talking about its redesign for a while, but this week provided concrete details about its plans, which are aimed at retaining the layout's orderly and clean look, a differentiator from competitors like MySpace.
At the heart of the redesign is the redistribution of profile content into different tabs, so that users can better organize components such as the activity feed, photos, personal information and applications. In addition, the activity feed tab will feature a new authoring control panel for creating and posting content called the Publisher Box. Moreover, the profile will have at the top a new horizontal navigation line with drop-down menus for its core features.
"The three main goals we have for this are: to make the profiles simple and clean; to give users control; and to let them emphasize the most recent and relevant content. This is what we've come up with as the best way to accomplish those goals," said Facebook's Mark Slee, the product manager of the new design.
Of course, any user interface change of this magnitude entails dangers, especially when it will affect about 70 million end users and thousands of application developers. Facebook has experienced backlash from changes in the past, such as the initial versions of its activity feed feature and Beacon advertising program, both of which were criticized for being too intrusive on people's privacy.
"It's a pretty significant redesign, so users will definitely have an adjustment period," O'Shaughnessy said. "People are generally opposed to change, so there'll be a pretty reasonable amount of consternation from users just because it's different."
This is why O'Shaughnessy has been surprised that Facebook is opting to rollout all the changes at once, as opposed to doing it more gradually, since the latter approach might lessen the impact on end users. "It's always a risk to rollout a really big change all at once," he said.
Yet, Slee is confident that the change won't be traumatic for end users, since Facebook has been actively communicating the changes and plans via a Facebook group. Facebook also plans to have a time during which end users will be able to toggle back and forth between the old and new layout, before the change is finalized at some point in June, Slee said.