The New Facebook Lists Are ‘Too Painful To Use’

You may remember Sean Parker as the guy who brought us Napster (in its golden years), as one of Facebook’s early investors, or as the guy played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. He’s no longer officially at Facebook, but he does have a thing or two to say about Facebook’s newly released lists. Take it, Sean.Finally, [Facebook has launched]a useful and well integrated list capability… The idea that a list is really a way of filtering your feed, first and foremost, is one that I’ve wanted for quite a long time.

[Unfortunately] , it’s still too painful to use. I’d like to see list-building surfaced even more prominently. The context menus that appear on hover over every username should appear instantly, without the tedious delay. When the context menu appears the list-membership dialog should be expanded by default and if the user belongs to any lists at all, these should be clearly indicated.

Even more confusingly, subscription within a given list should behave the way it sounds: as an all or nothing feature. This would make sense if subscription existed as a part of the list feature, but in Facebook’s model it’s actually two completely independent concepts. The only place where users might want to adjust the “degree” of subscription is in Facebook’s algorithmic “news feed” … but past evidence indicates that we have, in practice, no fucking idea what “more” or “less” of a given person’s updates really means.

It’s not that lists are a huge breakthrough. It’s just that they represent a departure from the philosophy that Facebook has had for years… specifically the idea that users don’t want these tools, they don’t want to think, they don’t want to do anything that might be construed as work to get a better experience. When in fact this is exactly what Facebook users wanted all along — control. The ability to sort and filter their network of friends in whatever way seemed right to them, without being at the mercy of Facebook’s seemingly arbitrary black box news feed algorithms. I suspect that most users won’t get too fancy with these tools, they’ll just use them casually to sort the wheat from the chaff, building a list of of “close friends” who they actually care to follow and leaving the rest to Facebook’s cyborg intelligence. What I do think will become clear with time is that while Facebook was doing a piss poor job of making these decisions on our behalf, most users never paid it much heed until they were given a taste of the alternative in the form of a simple toolset to do the job for themselves.

Just to be absolutely clear, lest anyone misinterpret my ranting, I’m incredibly happy with where the product is headed and this is a proud moment to be an owner and friend of the company. Regardless of whether you’re exhilarated or aggravated by the recent changes, there’s a lot more good things coming down the pipe.

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