Facebook goes out of its way to irritate and annoy its users, again

The latest mobile app design change is an act of outright hostility

Published May 16, 2014 6:25PM (EDT)

  (AP/Ben Margot)
(AP/Ben Margot)

Another Facebook redesign, and yet another demonstration of how little respect Facebook has for its own users. This time around, Facebook has gone out of its way to make clear that the company really, really, really doesn't want people to read their News Feeds in chronological order.

Earlier this week, Facebook rolled out version 10.0 of its iOS mobile app. The complaints started immediately. How, people asked, do we reset the News Feed from "Top Stories" -- in which Facebook's algorithm chooses what you see, in a mysterious order known only to God and Mark Zuckerberg -- back to "Most Recent" -- in which items are posted in chronological order?

Stop me if you've heard this before. There's a déjà vu all over again aspect to the current round of puzzlement. Facebook is constantly rejiggering its format for switching from "Top Stories" to "Most Recent," provoking panic from users who want to maintain control over their feeds.

But in the past the changes have been minor. Resetting the feed is usually just a click or two away. Users continue to be irritated and annoyed that they aren't allowed to set "Most Recent" as a permanent default, but hey, that's Facebook. We are accustomed to being treated as powerless peons.

Tthis time, Facebook did a number on its users. After the latest redesign, users must jump through multiple hoops.

1) Click on the "More" button at the bottom right hand corner of your screen.

2) Scroll down two screens to and hunt for a tiny "Feeds" button.

3) Click on the Feeds button.

3) Click on "Most Recent."

By my account, at least five clicks are now required to make the change. And of course, the change doesn't stick. In fact, the shift is less sticky than ever. Every single time you leave the Facebook app, you have to go through the entire procedure all over again.

I don't have good numbers on how many Facebook users prefer the "Most Recent" setting to Top Stories. I'm even willing to bet that most mobile users don't even know there's a difference, although a cursory web search indicates that the topic has received a fair amount of press coverage.

Every move Facebook makes is designed to increase user "engagement," so presumably the company has data demonstrating that the Top Stories feed is more effective in keeping the majority of Facebook users glued to Facebook. If true, Facebook could argue that the data proves that Top Stories is "better" than Most Recent. And of course, more engagement means more ads means more revenue. So the goal of generating revenue trumps user choice. Nuff said.

I've asked Facebook why they've made configuring the News Feed so difficult in the current mobile redesign and I'll update this post if I get an answer. But even if only a minority of users want to read their News Feed in chronological order, and even if there are clear business reasons for the changes, that still doesn't excuse the outright hostility Facebook is expressing to its users in the most recent "most recent" update. The redesign is a flipped middle finger aimed directly at users who just want to do the most natural thing anyone wants to do with a piece of software: configure it to serve their own interests.

But this is the game Facebook has always played. Routinely changing privacy defaults to make user information more public. Removing functionality from the core app to push users to other Facebook services. Transforming user likes into sponsored advertisements without asking permission from users. The only surprise about the latest design change is just how much effort Facebook went to hide the "Most Recent" option this time around. I'm puzzled as to why the company didn't not just remove it all together. At least that would be honest.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Most Recent News Feed Newsfeed Top Stories