Is the New Facebook Timeline a Failure in Design?

Generally people don’t like change!Is the New Facebook Timeline a Failure in Design

The majority of us like routine and familiarity.  Mess with someone’s habitual routine and watch them start to sweat, stress and squirm.

They also say that a change is as good as a holiday but is all change good?

Facebook’s new timeline is now live on both the personal profiles and pages and it has taken the known and familiar and replaced it with a very new design.

Steve Jobs said in an interview with Wired magazine in 1997 “People think that design is how it looks, but it goes much deeper than that, it is actually how it works

So does the new Facebook timeline design “work”?

The impact for business is that it needs to evaluate the implications of these changes to ensure that they maintain their engagement and utilise the stronger visual format that the brand “pages” now have.

So the changes are in place and the dust has settled, what are the implications for the managers, administrators and users of the “new”Facebook timeline “page”.

Is Facebook’s Timeline User Friendly?

Is it a failure from a usability and design perspective? One study by Simple Usability looked at how viewers scanned and interacted with the new Facebook timeline and by recording eye movements and actions while users browsed online, they could see exactly what elements each user was drawn to, distracted by and engaged with.

Here are their key findings.

1. Cover images aren’t as important as you may think

We all love great photos but the usability study that looked at how people interact with the Facebook page showed that other than to orientate themselves with what Brand page they were on users paid little attention to both the cover and profile images.

I think timeline like that works much better for a personal than a product page, I just think because it is a banner with a main picture, it just looks like advertising.”

Coldplay Facebook page

2. Your company and its history is interesting

There are 2 key elements here that tell your company story. The “About” section and the Dynamic “Timeline” which can go back to when the company started and this new feature of the Facebook timeline is that you can post updates that are dated such as when your company or brand was established.

The research showed that users were very interested in this “About” section on Facebook but usually found it difficult find on a company’s official “website”

Feedback from one the users in the test group “Just the general information, I like to know a little bit about their background… I liked the bits where it said founded and a little bit of information on when they started and what year, I thought that was interesting. The websites, it’s not obvious on there but I liked seeing it on here.

Scroll down to the beginning of Ben and Jerry’s Facebook page and you will see photos and information that reveal a great story about their humble beginnings at a renovated gas station in 1978. (thanks to Jacinta from the digital agency “Croagh INK” for pointing out this great story timeline to me)

It is certainly worth considering placing the important dates in your organisations history on the timeline. This will make the brand authentic and real.

Ben and Jerrys Icecream Facebook Timeline Story

3. The Timeline needs to remain current

Regular updates keep the sequence of the Facebook page connected and tell a story over time. The study showed though that no users scrolled back more than a month.

Users appeared to be put off by the breaks in the “Timeline” as the new sections loaded and stopped scrolling.

Users feedback -“When it started loading February..I thought it had finished, because you know with timelines, it stops at a certain bit… so I thought that’s it… because there is a big gap and the big gap is quite misleading because there is more stuff later on.”

Manchester United Facebook Timeline

4. Users take notice of friend interactions with a brand

The research also showed that seeing which of their friends already liked particular page split user opinion on whether they themselves would also like the page.

A status update or a comment from a user’s friend was more likely to create motivation to interact withe page especially if it was recent.

Coldplay Facebook Page

5. Pinned posts aren’t obviously different to users

The study also showed that the layout doesn’t differentiate the posts.

Few of the pages were utilising the pinned posts at the time of testing. Those pages that did had little effect; no users realised the pinned post was intended to be highlighted.

Clearer definition of pinned post as a feature would help or a unique use of content that works with other elements of

Jeffbullas.com Facebook page

6. Users aren’t interacting with apps

According to the study un-expanded app positions are the most important real estate.

Other than to click through and see photo albums, the majority of users failed to interact with the row of apps. More importantly, nearly all didn’t spot the arrow which makes all of the available apps visible.

Participant in the research said “I never even noticed that arrow, maybe it should be set out slightly differently.”

Coldplay Facebook Apps

Takeaways

The study suggests that much in the new “Timeline” layout is flawed. Even following Facebook’s guidelines for creativity and opportunity isn’t enough as users are navigating as if using established design formats.

According to the study, here are the major takeaways:

1. Brands should also make full use of new functionality – such as the Timeline and cover Image – to engage users, being aware that the latter has to be used imaginatively and not just considered to be a Facebook ‘billboard.’

2. Page managers should consider how promotions, competitions and themed content can be contained within a specific timeframe that doesn’t require excessive scrolling.

3. There is also no longer the opportunity to set a default landing tab or application, so brand managers should think about how the cover Image and pinned post functionality can support and reinforce competitions and campaigns.

4. The relationships and interactions a user’s friends have with a brand are now more prevalent than ever before, as such brands should focus on nurturing positive brand mentions wherever they may be on Facebook.

SimpleUsability MD Guy Redwood said:

But is clear that the average user doesn’t fully understand the new layout, or interact with it in the way intended. The mechanics of obtaining ‘Likes’ has become more difficult for brands, they now need to drive engagement more than ever. Page editors no longer have the ability to set targeted landing tabs or applications for non-fans. In the past you could direct people onto a particular tab to encourage likes or interaction with a promotion“.

How About You?

What do you think about the new timeline for Facebook?

Do you find it confusing? How do generate “likes” now with the new page?

How are you using apps and which ones are you making visible?

Do you think it is a user friendly design?

Look forward to hearing your stories.

More Reading

Image by vincos

Comments

  • Sarah

    I’m not sure it matters if the user notices if a pinned post is placed there on purpose, the point is that it’s at the top – does it get noticed more just because it’s at the top? One would think so.

  • Sarah

    I’m not sure it matters if the user notices if a pinned post is placed there on purpose, the point is that it’s at the top – does it get noticed more just because it’s at the top? One would think so.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for your comment Sarah. Top, above the fold (bottom of the screen) always drives more views.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for your comment Sarah. Top, above the fold (bottom of the screen) always drives more views.

  • Rick Allen

    I have to agree … there are lots of opportunities for lost interest. Change is inevitable – with Facebook as well as life. This is one of those cases where I think designers assumed they could take users with them on their journey, but the trip got too complicated and many parked on the roadside.

    On the other hand, as people grow more used to the new design and function perhaps the discontent will die down. Interesting that the old design people long to go back to now was, not long ago, the new design everyone complained about. Indeed, Timeline is the biggest design departure thus far.

    Since Facebook has pretty much written the book on social media it will be interesting to see if the population stays with them. Have they accurately predicted what people will like once they acclimate themselves to it? On the other hand – if you don’t like Facebook, who competes, really?

    Personally, I’ve adapted easily and quickly to past changes. And I think I get the new design – it just requires too much all at once to make all the changes in branding, graphics, and strategy to get done in the time I have. Reminds me of when cars when from plugs, points,  condenser, and carburetors to computers. Those were fun toys to play with. Today’s cars – you drive ’em, and take them to the shop to get them fixed. Where’s the fun in that?

  • Rick Allen

    I have to agree … there are lots of opportunities for lost interest. Change is inevitable – with Facebook as well as life. This is one of those cases where I think designers assumed they could take users with them on their journey, but the trip got too complicated and many parked on the roadside.

    On the other hand, as people grow more used to the new design and function perhaps the discontent will die down. Interesting that the old design people long to go back to now was, not long ago, the new design everyone complained about. Indeed, Timeline is the biggest design departure thus far.

    Since Facebook has pretty much written the book on social media it will be interesting to see if the population stays with them. Have they accurately predicted what people will like once they acclimate themselves to it? On the other hand – if you don’t like Facebook, who competes, really?

    Personally, I’ve adapted easily and quickly to past changes. And I think I get the new design – it just requires too much all at once to make all the changes in branding, graphics, and strategy to get done in the time I have. Reminds me of when cars when from plugs, points,  condenser, and carburetors to computers. Those were fun toys to play with. Today’s cars – you drive ’em, and take them to the shop to get them fixed. Where’s the fun in that?

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Rick for your insight and comments, The true test of these changes will be the “test of time”!

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Rick for your insight and comments, The true test of these changes will be the “test of time”!

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Rick for your insight and comments, The true test of these changes will be the “test of time”!

  • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

    Thanks Tanya for dropping into the blog. I would expect that they will refine it over time to improve the user experience..

  • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

    Thanks Carla for spending the time to comment. The one thing I do like about Facebook’s new design is its strong visual features. Everyone is still working out how to use this to drive deeper engagement engagement and sharing.

  • http://www.justuno.com/ Lucy Kelly

    Hello Jeff! I think
    every new change is not good for the staff and should get few more time to
    moderate it to get a better furnish. The new addition of facebook ‘timeline’ is
    not so bothering to the users. Yes, it’s little bit interesting for its few
    peculiar features and the cover image is one of those. Thanks for the
    discussion.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Lucy for your comment and there is nothing like some positive change to keep us on our collective toes :)

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Lucy for your comment and there is nothing like some positive change to keep us on our collective toes :)

  • http://www.justuno.com/ Lucy Kelly

    Hello Jeff! I think
    every new change is not good for the staff and should get few more time to
    moderate it to get a better furnish. The new addition of facebook ‘timeline’ is
    not so bothering to the users. Yes, it’s little bit interesting for its few
    peculiar features and the cover image is one of those. Thanks for the
    discussion.

  • http://twitter.com/miguelcurrey Michael Currey

    I’m not sure that pinned posts need to be more noticeable… users may then ignore them as ads or spam. 
    Any post I leave pinned gets more interaction than non-pinned posts, that’s good enough for me. 
    Is there evidence that a more noticeable pinned post would garner more interest than they already get?

  • http://twitter.com/miguelcurrey Michael Currey

    I’m not sure that pinned posts need to be more noticeable… users may then ignore them as ads or spam. 
    Any post I leave pinned gets more interaction than non-pinned posts, that’s good enough for me. 
    Is there evidence that a more noticeable pinned post would garner more interest than they already get?

  • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

    The study is linked to in the introduction and there is nothing like different studies with contradictory findings to keep the discussion flowing. At the end of the day we will have to adapt to the changes whether we like it or not because they “are” but the next Facebook timeline design evolution is currently in the Skunkworks, of that I am sure :)

  • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

    Thanks Jonathan for your comments. Facebook obviously has their own agenda and one of those is to optimize its profits. They are trying to balance their and the users needs and requirements :)

  • Anonymous

    I know eliminating the Welcome page preset has been frustrating for many of us in the marketing world.  We now just use a URL redirect to get everyone to our page of choice : )

    Overall, change is difficult, still up in the air on the end results.  Thanks for the discussion!

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for the comment. It is early days. So it is still “watch this space” scenario on the new timeline.

  • Info

    I like the new timeline.  What I don’t like is that for my “other” business, you have to go to my about page.  Both businesses are equally important to me and how do you know by looking at my timeline that I even have another business

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks for your comment. A suggestion? Maybe you should have another Facebook “page” for that brand

      • Sallyulianich

        That works well for my company.  We have Facebook pages for baseball, fastpitch, slowpitch, our Canadian branch and a general company page so far.

  • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

    Thanks for the insight. Any business (and Facebook is a business) needs to balance profitability and revenue with the needs of the consumer. I will watch with interest the unfolding of that balancing act.

  • http://DeniseSonnenberg.com Denise Sonnenberg

    A couple days ago I heard FB ad sales were down 12%. That might indicate Timeline for Pages was not a good thing. But then just as I went to read this article, I stopped at my email and saw this from North Social “Study after study is showing Timeline is increasing Facebook engagement for small and medium size brands in a big way. Overall fan engagement on brand pages is up 14%, engagement around content is up 46% – and around photos and video it’s up a whopping 65%!”
    So I would say the jury is still out.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Denise for dropping and contributing. The increase of 65% around photos and videos makes a lot of sense with the new timeline. I will have to check that out. Thanks

    • http://ideagirlmedia.com/ Keri at Idea Girl Media

       Denise,

      Interesting.  I had skimmed over the headline, out of frustration.

      Since the roll-out of Timeline for pages, I have noticed that the stats noted by Facebook on likes and Talking About this have been incorrect on most pages that I manage.  Also, with fixes and hiccups, it’s been hard to gauge success on anything, really, from the Admin point of view.

      While I hope there are pages experiencing those numbers, I’d like to know what category of small and medium sized businesses were part of the sample.

      To me, the article would appear pre-mature and unthorough.  Though I would agree that photo images are the way to go.  Maybe we are seeing the increased number because social media professionals are recommending more photos being used.  Making it all relative.

      Hopefully more optimistic comments next time…  :)

      ~Keri

      • http://DeniseSonnenberg.com Denise Sonnenberg

        Keri, I’ve been seeing comments in Facebook Groups that indicate my fellow social media managers are frustrated with the metrics on Facebook Ads as well as your report of Likes and Talking About issues. I’m going to start researching this to see how widespread the discontent is.

  • Sebastien

    About Facebook Timeline, few days ago, a french blog released its own FB page and had a great success. It seems to be an “Advertising Museum” where they post important advertising and marketing facts since 1885. Have a look! 
    http://www.facebook.com/blogmilkcheck

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Sebastien, I will look it up and check it out :)

  • http://www.socialdon.com/ Social Media Monitoring

    The old interface the interface was straight forward.  Control items were on the left, content in the center, and ads on the right.  In Timeline control and content elements mixed in the two main columns and ads are, again, on the right.  The place to enter your status updates is no longer at the top of your profile.  It is in one of the columns.  It took me a few seconds to find it the first time. There is one feature I like about Timeline.  You can choose to have an update span the two columns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scottackerman Scott Ackerman

    i am a big fan of the timeline. it’s a great way to document and curate the story of your life or your brand. but beyond that, i love that it is forcing businesses and marketers to use facebook the way individuals use facebook – to converse and interact in a natural way. in my opinion, the reason why so many brand pages are completely failing is because those businesses don’t understand the channel at all. 

    if i as an individual started promoting and enticing people to buy the crap that my kid was selling for a fund raiser at school, i doubt it would garner nearly as many likes or comments as that hilarious picture of my dog raiding the fridge. that’s what people use facebook for. and i’m guessing that if i really started promoting my kid’s school fundraisers on facebook, i would lose several friends. and others that didn’t bail would be less likely to pay attention to the items i did post, now that they know i’m less likely to post something that is funny or thought provoking or authentic in any other way without having an ulterior motive. 

    facebook should be the channel where brands communicate and tell their story, not sell. and i believe the roi in having loyal brand ambassadors vastly outweighs any promotion they might run.

  • http://www.realliberalchristianchurch.org Tom Usher

    The worst aspect about the timelines in my view is one you didn’t mention. It’s surprising to me because you mentioned that the study tracked eye movements.

    Having the line down the middle so that we have to have our eyes dart back and forth, side-to-side, working our way down, zig-zag fashion, is horrendously poor design. Frankly, I hate it.

    I don’t spend nearly as much time now looking back. Its a bit neurotic, even frantic, isn’t it?

    My feeling is that some very young minds came up with it. Hopefully, they’ll change it.

    Perhaps they’ll notice this comment. I’ve considered submitting my view as feedback or a recommendation to them.

    The simple solution is the line on the left or right but not down the middle.

  • http://www.realliberalchristianchurch.org Tom Usher

    The worst aspect about the timelines in my view is one you didn’t mention. It’s surprising to me because you mentioned that the study tracked eye movements.

    Having the line down the middle so that we have to have our eyes dart back and forth, side-to-side, working our way down, zig-zag fashion, is horrendously poor design. Frankly, I hate it.

    I don’t spend nearly as much time now looking back. Its a bit neurotic, even frantic, isn’t it?

    My feeling is that some very young minds came up with it. Hopefully, they’ll change it.

    Perhaps they’ll notice this comment. I’ve considered submitting my view as feedback or a recommendation to them.

    The simple solution is the line on the left or right but not down the middle.

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Tom for that insight. I think that we haven’t seen the last of the changes and evolution of the Facebook design!

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      Thanks Tom for that insight. I think that we haven’t seen the last of the changes and evolution of the Facebook design!

  • Christa Tani

    What frustrates me most about the timeline is that i can’t find videos i’ve been tagged in anymore!

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      That is interesting Christa, I wonder if anyone else has experienced that?

      • cce

        yeah… if you go to pHotos > albums > videos, only videos you’ve uploaded are there; videos you’ve been tagged in aren’t there. it’s such a basic feature so it actually makes zero sense

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      That is interesting Christa, I wonder if anyone else has experienced that?

    • http://jeffbullas.com Jeff Bullas

      That is interesting Christa, I wonder if anyone else has experienced that?

  • Christa Tani

    What frustrates me most about the timeline is that i can’t find videos i’ve been tagged in anymore!

  • Healthyfc

    Business business business. Who cares about businesses on Facebook? USERS dislike the timeline. Why does this article prattle on about businesses? Is Facebook no longer for individuals? Has it gotten that bad? THAT is what we hate about this timeline fiasco.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, you can’t use the cover photo to promote competitions and contests, etc, because that’s against the new guidelines. We’ve seen it abused, but generally, we try to stay within the restrictions, and it is a barrier to getting people to see any promotions we’re doing, because as you note, they don’t really go to the app boxes.

  • Akhil kamal

    In facebook time line is good cuz of the i’m too comfortable & i think the new change of facebook increased the fans & we are almost loving the cover photo too

  • http://twitter.com/mywherehaus Lyd

    Don’t like the timeline, no way, no how. FB was fine just the way it was; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Too bad. :^(

  • http://twitter.com/UnboundVA Unbound VA

    This has been my biggest frustration as well. I also found it to do this when sharing information from another page.

  • castor chua

    after months of weening myself off, i’ve finally deleted my account… i dunno if it was overall boredom or specifically timeline, but i can definitely say timeline didn’t help