Disclaimer: Although I work on the What’s New feed in Windows Live Spaces this should not be considered an announcement or precursor to an announcement of upcoming features of any Windows Live service.

I spend a lot of my time these days thinking about digital lifestyle aggregators such as Facebook and FriendFeed. One of the things I wonder about is how to make them more relevant to users as a way to stay connected to each other without seeming confusing, overwhelming or just plain spammy.

For instance, I look at the Facebook News Feed as the first significant implementation of this concept to hit the mainstream and I try to see what we can learn from their mistakes and where there is room for improvement. Below are two mistakes and one place I see room for improvement in the news feed as currently implemented by Facebook. The screenshot below is provided as a reference point.

facebook news feed

Wall Posts

I’m now quite convinced that having wall posts show up in the news feed is a mistake. In general, Facebook already indulges in bad design by having a Wall-to-Wall posting which means that you can be viewing a friend’s wall and may only see one half of the conversation. So there is always a confusing loss of context when reading a wall on Facebook. This loss of context is exacerbated by adding wall posts to the news feed since now we not only have to deal with hearing one side of a conversation. Instead a user logs in and is confronted with a statement from the middle of a conversation, clicks through and only sees half the conversation, tries to click through to that and may not have access to both user’s walls.

More than once I’ve logged into Facebook and been confronted with wall posts that would have been embarassing to the posters if they realized that their banter on some person’s guestbook wall was being broadcast out of context to all their co-workers, their manager and even their VP/CxO via the news feed.

Application Installations

Although I don’t agree with Kara Swisher for criticizing Facebook applications as being mostly trivial time wasters instead of professional tools, I do agree with her that most apps on the site aren’t of value. This means that using up my screen real estate to tell me that a buddy has installed the Pink Ribbon application or the ProductPulse application is spam almost every single time you do it. One should also consider that Facebook limits the amount of updates from your friends they show in your news feed to ensure a good mix of updates. I suspect most users would gladly trade the slots taken up by notifications of application installs for more personally relevant updates from their social network.

The notifications about application installs showing up in the news feed is nice for developers but I question it’s value to users. Especially when you consider that Facebook applications already have ways to spread virally via application requests which has unfortunately led to Facebook Application Fatigue by their users.

Groups and Events

Today, a lot of groups on Facebook are there primarily as a way to declare affiliation as opposed to being an active community of users such as you’d find on sites like MSN Groups or Yahoo! Groups. I joined groups like I Dont care How Comfortable Crocs Are, You Look Like A Dumbass, I Am Fluent in Sarcasm, and If Wikipedia Says It, It Must Be True because I thought joining them would look funny on my friend’s news feeds as opposed to wanting to be part of these groups either as a lurker or as a regular discussion participant.

One question is why Facebook uses the news feed to drive user to user traffic but not user to group traffic besides the “Dare has joined People Who Always Have To Spell Their Names For Other People” which encourages people to join the group but doesn’t encourage them to participate in the group. It may be that they don’t want users creating online groups within the site like you find in services like MSN Groups or Yahoo! Groups or it could just be that their platform can’t support that scale of activity. I wonder…

The same questions apply for events as well. It would be cool if after I was invited to an event, I also got news feed updates via my news feed later on telling me if my friends were attending or that the event was getting lots of attendees which may influence my attendance. Again, you have to wonder why such obvious enhancements haven’t made it into their service.

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