Navigational Face Lift For Facebook
I realize that Facebook has more than 500 million active users, and that people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on the site according to their statistics.
However, what’s interesting about the Facebook phenomena is that the social media site continues to be so popular in spite of the fact that its site navigation and IA seems overly complicated and can be confusing at times. I’ve certainly been losing myself on Facebook!
I haven’t been on Facebook very long but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if you’re constantly asking yourself, “now what link did I click on to get to that page,” then the site probably has some noteworthy navigational issues.
For example, has anyone had trouble changing the username for your personal Profile or Business Page? It wouldn’t surprise me because I didn’t see a direct link for this anywhere until I went to Facebook’s Help section where they provide a direct link to do so, usernames.
These are just some instances of how confusing Facebook’s site navigation can be. Even though I will only be discussing Facebook’s desktop site in this article (their mobile and IPhone apps are simply different pages from the same story, so to speak), perhaps we will be able to stumble across some viable IA solutions that could apply to all of their sites/apps.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
The home page to the site is pretty straightforward. It’s easy to understand because there’s only three basic sections: login, sign up, and courtesy navigation…nothing confusing there, although a more detailed explanation about what Facebook is or what it’s used for would be nice.
Simply saying “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life” is a little vague.
Even though you’d have to be a hermit to not have heard about Facebook, not everyone fully understands its purpose or functionality. This is perhaps the only time that I’m disappointed that Facebook provides too little information.
Humpty Dumpty Sat On A Wall
So after you’re logged in, you are taken to your Facebook home page. There you are greeted with a Welcome page (which is only visible to admins and will automatically disappear once all of the steps are fulfilled).
This page gives you steps as to what to do next. This is good…we have direction.
Unfortunately the first thing they tell you to do is “Search your email for friends already on Facebook”…? Shouldn’t I develop my profile first?
Building Better Bars
What’s great about the main navigation bar (Search bar, Home, Profile, Find Friends, Account) is that it’s global so you can have instant access to all of its links while on any page. It also has a drop down menu for the Account section which saves space in the layout.
However, Facebook is not taking full advantage of the main navigation bar or its IA capabilities. For example, it might be more IA friendly (and efficient) to have the following navigational scheme/links:
Messages (with sublinks to Notifications, Emails, Invitations, etc.), Friends (with sublinks to Find Friends, Friend Requests, etc.), Profile (with sublinks to Edit, Preview, Wall, Info, etc.), Pages (with sublinks to Edit, Preview, Wall, Info, etc.), Account (with sublinks to Basic, Privacy, etc.), Logout, and Help Center.
This is obviously a crude example but at least with this example users would have more links conveniently at their fingertips.
Aside from the main navigation at the top of the page there are also side bar navigation links on the left hand side of most of their pages. My main problem with these links is that, on your profile home page for example, there aren’t any explanations for them.
So, I guess it’s up to the user to assume their functionality. For people who don’t know what a News Feed is, it would probably be nice to have a brief explanation somewhere.
What’s In A Name…
This brings us to the Profile page. Ok, yes, the ads on the right are annoying but what I like about the Profile page is that it uses tabs to display the different profile information sections. This makes it very easy to navigate your profile.
However, what really bothers me the most about this entire page is that one of its main links is nestled underneath the profile photo. Considering how important the “Edit My Profile” function is, shouldn’t this link be a little more prominent on the page?
Once you get to the “Edit My Profile” page you are provided with, no surprise, more information to edit.
This is good, although there is a redundant “View my Profile” link at the top right of the page. Is this link any different than the Profile link right above it in the main navigation bar? Not really. There isn’t even a helpful page title for this page.
However, there is a link to privacy settings, incognito underneath the left navigation. You may have to do a double take but it’s there.
Clicking on the “Privacy settings” link does take you to privacy settings. The good news is that this page is labeled.
The bad news is that there aren’t any links back to the previous page and there’s yet another link to MORE privacy settings. Why can’t all of the privacy settings be on the same page?
Essentially the entire Privacy section takes you through a linear navigational maze with an endless supply of links to different settings – where some pages have some form of breadcrumb navigation and some don’t.
The only good thing that comes out of this entire “editing your profile labyrinth” is that Facebook does provide you with the opportunity to preview your Profile after you’ve adjusted your settings. This means that you will be able to see your Profile page as others see it before the changes are applied.
I Once Was Lost…
Overall I do have issues with a lot of the processes that Facebook requires you to go through. For example, why do you have to have a personal Profile page in order to have a Business Page, or why must you go through so many pages just to get to and edit your privacy settings?
Or, more recently, was it really user friendly to decrease the font size for their text (even though users are able to zoom in on pages in most standard browsers)?
On the other hand, the site does manage to provide a fair amount of definitions, feedback, popup boxes, and rollovers for explanations. All of this definitely promotes usability and allows users to make better, well-informed choices.
It would just be nice if the wealth of information on the site was organized in an easier to follow navigational scheme.
All of this does raise interesting questions: How important is usability on the Web if Facebook is so popular inspite of its navigational issues AND would Facebook be even more popular if its navigation received a facelift…again? Only time will tell…