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user interface

A user interface, not so user friendly!

August 10, 2011

Twitter last week announced that the old version of its interface will be completely replaced by the new version.

The company stated in their official Twitter feed, ‘If you’re currently using the Old Twitter, we want to let you know that you’ll be upgraded to New Twitter this week’.

Twitter has warned users of the impending change since it rolled out its new version back in September 2010, so this news has hardly taken users by surprise.  There are some users who are complaining about the change, but this seems to be only a small percentage of its users.

Upgrade or degrade?

When Twitter first introduced its new version it gave its users the option to ‘try it out’ and let them revert back to the old version whenever they wanted to. Some might believe that Twitter should have made the permanent change to its new version months ago, but by giving users plenty of time to adjust to the idea of a new version of the site, Twitter has managed to keep the majority of its users happy.

By contrast Facebook’s methods of introducing new changes are somewhat more drastic and abrupt.  When the company decided to step up its game in response to the launch of Google Plus, it announced a new video chat feature.

 A couple of weeks ago I was given the option to ‘try out’ Facebook’s new Sidebar chat. I decided to give it a try, assuming that the option to revert back to the old chat would still be available. However, when I realized I didn’t like this new chat, there was no option to revert back.

I’ve since found out that Facebook’s sidebar chat feature has caused numerous complaints from Facebook users, with a group on Facebook called ‘I hate Facebook sidebar chat, with over 25,000 likes. Usually any major upgrade has caused a backlash of users against the changes.

Normally the negative comments surrounding upgrades can be put down to people simply disliking change, however in the case of the new sidebar chat the critiques seem well warranted.

Previously Facebook chat showed a small chat box on the lower right displaying which of your friends are currently online, which was a simple and easy design. However now the new chat takes up 20% of the screen and stretches from the top to the bottom of the right hand side of your screen. Whereas before only those online were shown on your chat box, now chat shows a list of people who Facebook has decided you would most like to speak to.

So what exactly has caused so much criticism about Facebook’s new chat? There are multiple issues that have come up in relation to this new chat. One of the main complaints raised is that the list of people now shown on your chat, are people that Facebook thinks you want to talk to, giving you no option to make any changes. According to Facebook, friends displayed on your list are those who you ‘interact with most frequently’. However, a number of the people displayed on my chat list are people I never talk to, and reading other critiques online it seems that this is the case for most people. Another complaint is that Facebook lists friends in alphabetical order. However, there is no scrollbar on chat, meaning that you cannot see everyone online and those who are at the bottom of the list aren’t going to appear in chat lists.

So far reading through others’ comments about the new chat feature, I have not seen a single positive comment. There may well be some people who are very happy with the sidebar chat, but the responses are overwhelmingly negative.

Survival of the fittest!

With the launch of Google Plus, attracting already over 10 million users, inadequacies such as this might be something that drives devoted Facebook users over to Google Plus. Apparently, amongst comments made about the Facebook sidebar chat, some users are threatening to stop using Facebook due to this feature, and others seem to be contemplating moving over to Google Plus instead.

One of Facebook’s biggest mistakes is not allowing its users to revert back to the old chat, despite advertising the new chat as something to try out.

With both Facebook and Twitter having introduced new layouts recently, Twitter has managed to avoid the backlash that has struck Facebook. One lesson to learn from this is that a gradual approach to big redesigns works best. Not giving people the option to revert back to the old feature so they can decide for themselves what friends they most want to talk to, is a clear example of how not to do things.   It is ultimately users who can make or break a business, therefore letting them have input is vital.