There's been quite a buzz over the last few days around Facebook introducing vanity URLs, but is it really what users need? Of course, the word 'vanity' denotes that it doesn't meet a user 'need' and is an added bonus, but is this going to satisfy those who were unhappy with the recent redesign, or who have migrated to newer, shinier services such as Twitter?
Every time Facebook has been redesigned, there has been an outcry from certain groups of users, resistant to change, and calling for their previous comfort zone to be returned to them forthwith. As someone who has worked on a number of site redesign projects, this is always par for the course, and while it is important to gauge users' initial responses and thoughts, it's how they feel after a month, or six months that is the real measure for the success of a redesign.
This is why I've waited a good while to comment on the newest iteration of the Facebook experience, so my own views on it can 'bed in' for a while. I'm sad to say that for once the angry mob are right. The latest Facebook just isn't as good as the previous one. Its main downfall has been its faddish emulation of Twitter. The main page view now is a constantly-updated feed of all your friends' activity, but with none of the brevity or elegance that makes Twitter such an engaging experience. Were it just a view of status updates, this would be more interesting, but now it seems to be a cavalcade of drivel, mostly relating to the endless quizzes which now seem to be the site's main currency.
There's no sense of relevance, of surfacing content you specifically may find interesting. Considering the amount of personal information the average user contributes to Facebook, it should be pretty easy to figure out what makes them tick. As Imran Ali questions: "Why can't... Facebook [help] users make relevancy rather than recency based choices..."
A missed opportunity?
However, the introduction of vanity URLs has been a rather successful tactic for getting people talking about Facebook again, and this is where I feel they missed a trick. Quite a few posts on Twitter from people I follow went along the lines of "Just logged into Facebook for the first time in months to get my URL." This would have been the perfect opportunity to test a refined design, or showcase some useful new features on a sub-set of users who had become jaded with the service. It would be interesting to know how this initiative has affected user numbers, and if it will encourage returning users to stick around.
Either way, it's definitely time for Facebook to re-evaluate its offering to users, and think about what its brand stands for. It will never be able to effectively replace Twitter without sacrificing the richer content experience it currently offers. It's time to hunker down, cut away the chaff and focus on what it does best – connecting friends and allowing them to have fun without drowning them in information.