We’re just hours from Facebook’s IPO hitting the stock market, and whatever happens, it’s likely to make waves in Silicon Valley and across the United States. But Facebook’s 900 million users might not be aware of a key part of the business or marketplace side of Facebook: how the company profits from advertisers.
I thought of Facebook only as a social networking site until a few months ago, when I started trying to build a Facebook page for my blog. All of a sudden, as opposed to being a typical end user, I became a user who might be a business owner or an advertising or PR representative for a company or organization. To those users, Facebook can be a “marketplace” to attract and engage with more customers. With help from a friend who works on Facebook’s ads team, I was able to get some ads credit to try out the process of creating, modifying, and eventually evaluating my ad strategies.
And, of course, wherever there’s a user, there’s a user experience!
After spending one hour going through the process of building my first Facebook ads, here are some interesting thoughts from a UX perspective:
Have a unified portal
Instead of going through one unified portal for building an ad, users can start from multiple places: Facebook Ads, Facebook for Business, Facebook Pages, or of course your own page that you would like to use ads to promote. Each of these portals seems to have an independent information architecture. If the user is patient enough to navigate around, he or she should be able to find all of the information needed to get started, especially the button labeled “create an ad.” However, the whole experience is still very fragmented. It almost seems to me that multiple teams within Facebook are managing this process at the same time — and they probably don’t talk to each other too much.
Have a unified feel and flow if you are trying to get the same users to do the same thing — which, in this case, is to create an ad on Facebook.
Always assume your users are starting from ground zero
The concept of Facebook Pages kept popping up when I was trying to read tutorials on Facebook ads. It took me a while to understand that having a Facebook page is the precondition to having an ad on Facebook. All ads have to be associated with a page. However, this idea got buried in articles describing how you should “target your user,” “group your business,” or “track your ads.” With a UX background, I’m always looking first for the user flow in any system — even a system as simple as an informational website. As a novice user, in this case, I had no idea how to start a Facebook ad from scratch. I read things like “build your presence with a page” or “talk to your consumers using your page,” but nowhere did I see something like: “In order to create an ad, you need a Facebook page for your business as a first step.”
Trying to educate your users about too much at one time usually overwhelms them. In this case, “how to create an ad” and “how to create an effective ad” are for users at different stages. Mixing basic flows with all the other information and strategies you would like your users to learn will likely confuse them. So assume your users know nothing about the platform. Hold their hands, step-by-step, for the basics before teaching them tricks. A PR person from Starbucks probably doesn’t need to review this basic knowledge, but the owner of the cafe around the corner who wants to advertise his little shop on Facebook would need the concrete steps.
Have support ready for users along the way
This point is actually a positive one! Creating an ad is by nature more complicated than creating an event on Facebook, as there are more details and customizations involved. Instead of setting a goal for a service like, “Create a system so that users won’t make mistakes,” why not have a more realistic goal, such as “Design a system that has high ‘recoverability’ so users know what to do when they have questions or make mistakes”? Facebook’s neat “question mark” feature was a great help when I was working through the flow.
For systems with fewer details or shorter learning curves, using a click or hover-over effect to hide extra information when it’s not being actively requested is an unobtrusive way to have help ready whenever users need it.
You would expect Silicon Valley companies like Facebook to come up with products that are unified, user-friendly, and well-supported, but when it comes to business users, that might not be the case. Similar to some notorious enterprise software, Facebook still requires users who would like to post ads to download and sift through pages of start guide PDFs, and trying to figure out the step-by-step flow for building an ad for the first time can be a struggle. If Facebook ultimately wants to let every small shop owner quickly get the concept of Facebook ads and build ads for their business (without shelling out for an online ads consultant), there’s still room for Facebook to improve.
In case you didn’t know, Facebook launched another redesign of its service a few days ago. Typical of The Book, it did it without warning, and shuffled things around just enough that everyone I know has something to say about it. If Zuck is looking for a galvanized public response, he definitely got it.
It’s interesting to see how Facebook being a monopoly is affecting how it approaches design. By all accounts, the good people on the design team are doing their best to be collaborative, with the implied hope that this will lead to collaborative — and, more importantly, effective — design. This hope is a false one, I’d wager, because collaborative design in a vacuum is still design within a vacuum. It might be fun for people on the inside, but it sure feels authoritarian for everyone else.
So anyway. I decided I’d put Facebook’s redesign approach in perspective with a very loose analogy:
Let’s take this scenario: You ride the same bus to work every day. When the bus service first came to your neighborhood, you were really excited to ride it every day, but now you appreciate it for being mostly on time and getting you where you need to go without any fuss. It also has what every bus should: functional aisle seating, windows that open, buttons to request a stop, and some nice features like ads on flatscreens to keep you entertained. Add to that the regulars with whom you like to chat every once in a while, and you’d say the overall bus experience is pretty good.
Then picture this: One day, as you’re stepping onto your usual bus, you have a strange feeling that something’s…different. For one, the seats are all shoved toward the back, making it really hard to sit down as you have to push past the throngs in the way. Second, you notice that while some windows still open, others don’t any more (and some are even missing). The bus request button has been replaced with a pull-down cable thingy, and you see that somebody decided to leave a pamphlet explaining the change. This wouldn’t ordinarily bother you, except that the pamphlet doesn’t say much, and it’s plastered every few inches along the cable (which makes it tough to actually call a stop).
Now you’re trapped. Trapped on a bus that was once familiar to you but is now different — and you’re feeling frustrated because there isn’t another bus service available that is as reliable or has as many friendly faces in it on a regular basis. You consider writing a note to the head of the bus company, but since you know he has a bad reputation when it comes to actually listening to his customers, you decide instead to resign yourself to your fate and find ways of tolerating this semi-new bus lest you go insane.
Trapping consumers is never acceptable. Facebook, are you listening?
Got an invite to try out the latest social service Google launched today: Google+, thought it would be good to give a few “fresh” UX comments on it
Circle‘s definitely the first feature that I paid attention to. By placing contacts into different social circles (one contact can be in multiple circles), you’ll be able to choose your audience for sharing. This is definitely not a new concept, as you can group your friends in whatever way you like on Facebook as well. What’s more, the fact that people have the need for this kind of optimal and selective sharing is not a “secret” any more. Back in Cornell, one of the published studies I did with Professor Jeff Hancock and a few fellow Cornellians was exactly looking at this particular issue. However, the strong contrast we found was, despite of people’s needs to filter who they want to talk to on Facebook, they were still too LAZY to group friends, and do all those privacy customization. Although they might not intend to, people would still carelessly post the photo they took in crazy parties on a platform on which their boss could see the same photo as well.
I guess there are two approaches Google uses here to at least make the notorious process of friends grouping easier and more intuitive for users. The first is of course through the UI design. The first impression I had about this wheel-shaped friend circle was “VERY NEAT.” The drag and drop action’s definitely quite easy and intuitive, and the visual effects made it quite a pleasant experience to place friends onto different wheels (At least must pleasant compared to Facebook’s grouping feature, you couldn’t drag and drop, so users have to customize the friend groups as if they are configuring their bank accounts. One detailed design feature was that users could select multiple friends and drag them all together. Grouping is one thing, to be able to easily share is another thing. That’s where the newly updated black Google tool bar came into play. Once the groups are set, as long as you are browsing content under Google (e.g. viewing search results, google reader content, etc.), as shown on the left side of the image below, you could use the tool bar to conveniently share the content (also attach location, photos, files to it…), and choose the specific friend circle to share it with. It IS pretty much like a cross platform Google Buzz. So instead of going to the buzz app or gmail to share things, users could share it on the top right corner of the web page.
So how does this different from Facebook‘s friend grouping mechanism? As shown on the right hand side, whenever FB users post their status, by clicking on that little lock icon, they could choose among “friends”, “friends and Networks”, etc. If this were 5 years ago, when the concept of Network still matters, i mean when people can pretty much group their online friends by what school they went to or what company they worked for, i guess that’s fine. However, as the social networks are developing into this “long tail” fashion, even within a same network, everyone of us might have different “inner circles”, plus there are social circles overlapping with each other, so what people really need now is that little “customize” thing to select a specifically customized group of people to share certain information with. However, by clicking on that customize thing, users would be taken to another window (an extra step right there), AND, that’s not where they could customize the group, only the place where they could choose groups… so that adds a whole layer of complexity to the user experience of grouping friends on FB, which makes it not hard to explain why people are not quite into “grouping friends” on Facebook.
So the Steam thing is pretty much just like the Facebook Wall. Not sure how folks from Facebook would feel about this, but pretty much you can find every feature in Stream matches with a feature on Facebook: “Share what’s new…” = “write something”; “+1″=”like”, comment, share, etc. all the same, it’s just on each feature, it made selectively sharing via friend circles much easier.
To be honest, I am not quite sure how far the circle thing will bring Google+ to, cause you know, sometimes, people do need that kind of “blast” feeling by posting random stuff out there, to shout out loudly to all their friends, i mean ALL their friends. Who knows what kind of surprising responses you’ll have, good or bad, and that’s how you establish connections with those weak social ties you have on SNS, which is exactly what’s interesting about SNS, not only to maintain existing social connections, but also to potentially foster new ones.
By turning Google+ into a Facebook, that also adds another interesting phenomenon, that is, users started to pay attention and customize their Google profile, which for fairly a long period of time, nobody really cares… all of a sudden, google profile becomes a place where your new friends on Google+ would use to “stalk”, “research” and “learn” about you, so you might as well change a profile picture and write some good things about yourself as if you are building your Facebook info page. However, the information richness on Google profile now is far from Facebook, so that’s a potential area which might attract a lot of attention if Google+ gets popular.
I immediately tried to use the “hangout” feature once I got on Google+, simply because this is the first REAL unique feature about this platform (all those share, comment, grouping stuff are not new…), and this is where the hard core rocket computer science could possibly rock the stage. Basically this feature enables several people to start video chatting and text chatting at the same time. I tried this with Bill on my mac. He’s on his mac too, with a webcam. The beta version wasn’t stable enough for us to start the video chat, he could see my video, but I could only hear his voice though.
Well, here’s a video shows how it works, so now I could only imagine:
An article on TechCrunch describes this as “if your neighbor is sitting there, you know that they’ll likely be interested in striking up a conversation. In fact, it would be rude for you to walk by and not say anything.” Is that true? Probably not. You know how high the bar is when you want to start a video chat with your friends? VERY HIGH…
At least for me, unless I am chatting with my parents, I could never imagine start a video chat with a friend (doesn’t really matter if this is a close friend or not… ) immediately, video chat still need you to totally put yourself together, don’t have messy hair, don’t be in your pajamas, don’t be weirdly looking into your webcam, etc. etc. So that’s exactly why text chat is way more popular than video chat among friends. The light-weighted and pressure free kind of communication is what friends need. Whereas video chat’s either for families and business occasions.
With all that being said, it’s still a cool feature (if it actually works…), and might be useful in a different context.
Only briefly looked at the Sparksfeature yet, looks like Twitter‘s gonna be -_-!!! this time. Sparks is where people can first customize their interests, and search and share relevant information with their friends. So Twitter is more like a real-time news sharing platform, but Google is where people would go for both news and general longer lasting information. For instance, I would search for how people react to the latest SF Giant’s game, but I wouldn’t search on Twitter for the information on how to play baseball. You would do the later on Google, which makes Google+ a perfect place to share that less real-time but more longer lasting information.
It seems that Google+ has found this “sharing vacuum” where Google can combine its search strength with people’s social sharing needs. However, I am still hesitated if the Sparks would work or not though. And the reason for that is, in order to create conversations for people based on their interests, you need not only the relevant information, but also the relavent people, which means, you are building a conversation while building this community. Twitter is successful in that it fosters thousands of communities, which might be consist of total strangers in real life, but that doesn’t matter, they come together due to the same #keyword they all care about, whereas on Google+ now, one only started out with their friends, and there’s no search for stranger users who might have super interesting and relevant content. It’s like, no matter how much I like karaoke, no matter how much information I can find out about karaoke on Google, if none of my friends on Google+ is interested in that, I will still die from the social “loneliness” and “hunger” of not being able to find people of this interest with me…
There are other stuff on this platform that I can keep on talking, the mobile feature, the huddle feature, the linking it with Picasa, potentially with Google readers, but I am just gonna stop right now… to avoid myself putting too much preconceptions on this platform and let the users and data speak for themselves.
Of course, this is like the 3rd or even 4th attempt from Google to try to be SOCIAL. Previous ones, orkut doesn’t really have a main user group in North America, Buzz is only hanging there, and wave has already disappeared. A key component to those previous “failures” is, the lack of a stable and loyal user group, which leads to the consequence of the lack of valuable content. It’s the friends and the related content that ultimately drives people to use the platform. It’s like my experience with Buzz, of all these time, the people who are active on Buzz are always those 5% so called “pioneer users.” Again, on Google+, I saw it’s that group of people are actively trying out this new “toy”, but what about the tens and thousands of “critical mass” on Facebook, they were not attracted by Buzz, will they ever be attracted by Google+?
Lastly, to bring the issue to a different level: according to Gundotra, who’s one of the lead designers of Google+, his vision is “Today’s web is about people. To organize the world’s data, you have to understand people” and “We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid… Real life sharing is nuanced and rich. It has been hard to get that into software.”
“Sharing, connecting, organizing, understanding, etc.” Yes, yes, yes, they are important; but, how far away are we from the actual content creation now. Someone’s gonna be the source of sharing. By sharing, I am not saying the information about where you had dinner yesterday, the photo you took on a concert, I am saying the original and valuable content that this world needs to move forward. Indeed, technology makes broadcasting to the whole world possible, it significantly reduces the time and resources people need to share information, which is good to shorten the distance between developed and undeveloped areas/fields, but not necessarily good for motivating innovation and originality. The majority of the people will be soaked and trapped by reading existing information non-stop. Should fostering the kind of seemingly social but in fact inefficient information sharing be the primary goal of the “greatest company” of this age? Probably not.
Anyways, let’s give Google+ sometime, to see if it’ll + some surprises and more importantly + some substances to this SOCIAL age…