NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Facebook unveiled a much-anticipated series of new features Thursday that will be rolled out in the coming weeks and significantly change the way users share content and interact with one another.
The company laid the groundwork for these changes earlier this week when it released a complete overhaul of the site’s look and feel, most notably by adding a column of real-time updates next to the news feed.
Whether or not these back-to-back changes actually improve the social networking experience for users remains to be seen, but in the short term the changes will likely make long-time users feel like newcomers trying to understand how the site works all over again. So we’ve rounded up the three biggest changes that users should prepare for in the near future.
The Facebook profile as we know it is about to get a major makeover. Until now, profiles essentially functioned like pages in a directory, providing quick details that highlight a person’s interests and background, along with any photos and updates that person might choose to share. But going forward, the layout will change drastically by being more visual and better illustrating the full scope of a person’s life.
Instead of just having a small thumbnail profile photo, users will also be able to add a large landscape picture or “cover” photo to the top of their profile page, something that will immediately give your profile the feel of being its own unique website. Beneath this photo, users will be able to include a few familiar details about themselves in writing (where they work, went to school, etc.), but the page will also more prominently display photos taken and friends added, and will even map out places you’ve visited.
The key update here is the timeline, which displays previous updates and stories you’ve shared from one year to the next. In this way, you and your friends can get a more in-depth view of you as a person. Needless to say, the goal of this isn’t to have five years’ worth of updates about what you ate for dinner each night, unless that’s what you’re into. From the profile page, users can click on a particular year and use the updates to see major milestones in that time period.
“You choose what's featured on your timeline. You can star your favorites to double their size or hide things altogether,” writes Sam Lessin, a product manager at Facebook, on the company’s blog. “If important parts of your story aren't included on your timeline, you can go back to when they happened and add them.”
In this way, Facebook is really trying to create a book of your life to date, rather than just a page.
Facebook is moving into the present tense.
At the moment, many websites have a Facebook “Like” button, which allows users to share an article or video they’ve watched with their connections on Facebook. But now, the social network is in the process of taking this to the next level. With the new updates, as soon as you start watching a video, listening to music or playing a game on certain sites, you will have the option to automatically post an update to Facebook saying that you are doing so, which will pop up in the recently added real-time news ticker that we mentioned earlier.
Any of your friends who happen to be on Facebook at that moment and see that update can simply click on it and open up the same show, song or game you are enjoying without ever having to leave Facebook. So, for example, if you start watching a TV show on Hulu and share this on Facebook, another one of your friends might see that update and start watching right then, potentially building greater engagement between users and Facebook, users and Hulu, and users with each other, as it creates more of a sense of friends hanging out and enjoying the same content at the same time.
Facebook has already partnered with video services like Netflix and Hulu to make this happen. Likewise, Facebook is joining forces with Spotify so users can share and listen to music in real time right on the social network.
Facebook: The Newspaper
As part of the first round of changes introduced this week, Facebook tweaked the news feed to feature a set of top stories – those with the most user engagement – that sit on top of the page, above other recent updates. In this way, Facebook created a feed that more closely resembles a newspaper for your social life, with top stories, but the company isn’t stopping there.
Facebook is also partnering with select publishers including Yahoo News and The Washington Post to allow users to read articles their friends recommend right on Facebook, without ever having to open up a new window or tab in their browser. In effect, the site may just become a kind of newspaper for real news as well, and of course, keep users on the site longer in the process.
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