Why Facebook’s mobile apps suck: A developer’s view

I’ll admit it: Contrary to my own expectations I’ve grown to  use Facebook much more than I thought I would have — mainly because it’s the most common point of connection across my many social and interest circles. And I use it more despite Facebook’s persistently horrid user interface.

But Facebook is especially horrendous on mobile. For instance, the Facebook Android app won’t let me share items from other people’s streams, the way the Facebook standard website does.  Also, on the Facebook Android app I can’t tag someone in a status update (like saying “Joe Schmoe loves this kind of sushi.”) — I can only indicate whether I’m “with” someone, which often isn’t the case.

Argh. Gah….

Anyway, today while I’m researching and writing about Facebook’s various mobile problems, I found Kevin C. Tofel’s May 15 GigaOm post: Does your Facebook mobile app suck? here’s why

He summarized findings published in the Mobtest blog. These only looked at problems with Facebook’s iOS app, but they’re interesting even though I’m an Android user. In a nutshell, Facebook’s app relies heavily on web technology (HTML) to deliver content.  There are good reasons for this, but on iOS devices it causes problems.

Here’s how Mobtest summed it up:

Why would Facebook use HTML technology inside a native iOS app?

HTML is easier for displaying fluid content. Objective-C really sucks when it comes to fluid display. An image with text around it, buttons with varying text labels are really hard to create yourself in Objective-C as you have to calculate dimensions and positions of all elements yourself. In particular for a timeline HTML will be much easier.

Creates code that can be shared across different platforms. iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone are all different technologies and a developer’s nightmare. Sharing some content/functionality in the form of HTML makes sense.

HTML is much more in line with Facebook’s continuous deployment process. FB developers are responsible for their own QA, and part of that is to push code out to a limited set of servers, see results and then push it out to more and do this each day if not more often. With Apple taking as least a week of review, rolling back a code change is a nightmare.

They can get away with it. Yes Facebook is not a bank, there are no other iOS FB apps out there and we will still use the service as it has a virtual monopoly on social networking with 900 million users now. We just have to suck it up.

Feature phones is where growth is. A very high percentage of iPhone and Android users already have the Facebook app installed. The next frontier is feature phones, in particular in non-western parts of the world. These new users will first encounter Facebook on their mobile, and it will not be a shining iPhone.

OK, that doesn’t explain the boneheaded lack of key features in Facebook’s Android app that I noted, but it could help explain some of the poor performance I’ve experienced — slow load times, lagging updates and push notifications, and lots and lots of crashes.

Tofel, an iPhone user, closed his GigaOm post with this observation:

…For the time being, I’m going to switch to m.facebook.com in my smartphone browser. I did some testing this afternoon and the experience is far faster, up to date and generally offers the same features as the native mobile app.

 

I’m not alone in this: reflections on social media and digital connection

Social media, digital communication channels, and cell phones often get accused of alienating people, enabling bullies, and breaking down the human ties which are the foundation of society.

Bullshit. Personally, I am far happier on a day-to-day basis thanks to these technological tools. They have added considerable love, meaning, joy, and value to my life. With their help, I’ve been able to offer nurturing and support to far more people I care about than ever would have been possible otherwise.

So I wasn’t surprised when a recent Pew study found that 85% of adult who use social networking sites say that people are mostly kind. Also, 68% reported they’d had a experience on social media that made them feel good about themselves, and 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.

I know I’m not alone in this…

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Facebook, Yahoo: just let me follow the damn link

I’ve noticed on Facebook that if someone shares a link using Yahoo’s Facebook app, I can’t just follow the link. They seem to expect me to install that app just to follow the link!

Case in point: Here’s a screenshot of a link that one of my Facebook friends shared, which I tried to click on:

Click to enlarge.

When I tried to click that link, here’s what I got:

Click to enlarge

No, I don’t want to install that stupid app. But this request gave me no option to just follow the link — neither in this window, or when I hit “cancel.”

#sharing #fail

Google+, Facebook & mobile

I just spent most of the day testing the new Google+ social network service, and its Android app and mobile web app — and writing a review for CNN.com about the mobile experience. Generally, I liked what I saw, despite some glitches. This offering is still really, really beta — but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

My review: Google+ a clean, intuitive mobile experience so far

Clearly Google+ is going head-to-head against Facebook, and I think it has a decent chance of winning in the long run, especially if it includes good mobile integration of core Google services like calendar, Gmail, and docs.

But what about Facebook?…

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Like diversity? Facebook will let you have it, but not keep it

Yesterday I wrote about an annoyance I have with Facebook’s web user interface. In a nutshell, I personally prefer to regularly view in my news feed the latest items from ALL the people, groups, and pages I’ve friended or liked in Facebook — not just the select few which Facebook has noticed I already interact with most frequently.

Why? I prefer diversity. I’m a fairly casual Facebook user, but I do use it as a way to connect with people, organizations, and communities for whom Facebook is really the best way to keep up with them. This includes many community groups, people whose social/professional circles really don’t overlap with mine otherwise, and even people/orgs with whom I disagree.

This is because, as I’ve written before (and so has Ethan Zuckerman), I think too much homophily is a problem — not just online, but in life.

But so far, Facebook seems to want to give me no choice but homophily — at least, they won’t respect my preference on an ongoing basis.

Here’s what I mean, based on what Vadim Lavrusik of Facebook told me this morning….

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Facebook: How to change your default news feed setting to “most recent”

UPDATE JUNE 30: Unfortunately, this fix doesn’t seem to be persisten. Today, my Facebook news feed default reverted to “Top News” — without me changing that setting. I asked Vadim Lavrusik of Facebook about it, and the bottom line is: it is not currently possible to opt to persistently see “Most Recent.” They’ll change you back to “Top News” when you’re not looking, like it or not. Seriously. Read more

I use Facebook strictly as a casual way to communicate with people I know. I’m not a heavy Facebook user because their interface sucks, and it keeps on sucking. But there’s one thing about Facebook that was really bugging me, and I finally just figured out how to fix it.

The Problem: The default setting for your Facebook news feed (list of recent updates) is “Top News” — which is somewhat misleadingly named, since it’s really only updates from the friends and pages that Facebook’s algorithm, in its infinite and inscrutable wisdom, believes you interact with the most.

In order to see in your news feed updates from ALL the people and pages you’ve chosen to connect with on Facebook, you need to select the “most recent” option. Totally unintuitive, but that’s par for the course with the Facebook interface.

BUT: In order to routinely see updates from all your Facebook friends and pages, you must change that default setting. Facebook doesn’t make this easy — again, par for the course for Facebook.

I figured out how to do it. Below is my quick video tutorial.

WATCH VIDEO TUTORIAL: Facebook News Feed settings

…You’d think that with all the money they’re making, Facebook could afford to hire some good UI designers and do some usability testing! I think I might mail them a copy of Don’t Make Me Think (old by internet standards, but the principles are timeless).

Mea culpa: I can’t be an off-duty journalist

Is a journalist ever off-duty? I tend to think not — and yesterday I feel like I neglected my duty. It’s bugging me.

It was Memorial Day, I decided to go for a long bike ride to see the beach at Alameda. I needed the exercise, and the weather was perfect. I was enjoying myself greatly — but as I was biking back along Crown Beach in Alameda, I saw police, firefighters, and onlookers gathered. I asked what was happening, and they told me that a man was stranded offshore. A firefighter pointed out into the water, and I could see a head bobbing above the waves, about 150 feet out.

“It’s shallow out there, he’s standing,” said the firefighter. And indeed, the man didn’t seem to be struggling. But he wasn’t waving or shouting for help, either.

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YouTube founders buy Delicious, but I’ve moved on

For a long time I was a devoted fan of the social bookmarking service Delicious. It was my backup brain, and I used it to feed content to this blog when I didn’t have time to write. But after Yahoo bought it a couple of years ago, they just let it wither on the vine. It was sad.

So I was happy to see this news today:

YouTube Founders Buy Delicious; First Step To Taking On Google?

…Of course, I’ve moved on. Diigo is now my new backup brain. I’ll keep an eye on how Delicious evolves, but it would take a hell of an upgrade to tempt me to switch back.