Earlier this week, Facebook announced on their blog that after 6 months of dialogue with Facebook members, a new looking Facebook was being offered for everyone to use. The product manager for the new profile, Mark Slee, outlined the new features of the design and stressed that most changes were being implemented to make the site simpler and cleaner, which is always important when improving the usability of any site.
New features aside, the thing I liked most was the strategy Facebook are using to ensure that any changes are positive and meet users needs. At the moment, the new version is optional for those who want to try it. Happily, there is a link in the top right corner allowing users to switch back should they dislike using the new version. Additionally, next to that link is the opportunity to leave feedback. This will allow Facebook to capitalise on the massive audience they command on this social networking site and essentially generate usability testing on a grand scale. Other open source companies such as Mozilla have been using this strategy for a long time. Releasing beta versions of their Firefox browser and allowing volunteers to test it for bugs means that thousands of people can contribute to it without crippling Mozilla financially. It also means that feedback is gathered from as wide an audience as possible.
Once the final design is rolled out to every member, there will inevitably be those who will not like the change. Often when people get used to the way a website works, good or bad, they will rightly try to hold on to the system they knew. The key is providing a new design that shows users how much better a site can perform so that they come to realise how valuable it is, and eventually wonder how they ever managed before!
My hope is that Facebook are genuine in their quest for feedback and really listen to the comments sent to them. There is always the danger that they become possessive over their new design and fail to take on board constructive criticism. Perhaps in this case time will tell.