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.

 

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).

Free Kindles, local mobile news, and pissed off fanboys: My recent CNN.com Tech mobile stories

It’s been a very busy month and a half for me. I spent a week in Los Angeles as a featured presenter for the Mobile News Week at the journalism school there, and now I’m finishing preparations to travel to two other journalism schools next week for the Knight Digital Media Center’s Mobile Symposium. So I haven’t been letting Contentious.com readers know what I’ve been writing elsewhere.

But I’ve been logging a lot of cool mobile stuff for CNN.com Tech. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been covering there…

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Facebook “likes” on your pages? Don’t count on them.

If your site includes Facebook “like” buttons to encourage people to share your content, be careful about how you use those numbers — or how seriously you take them.

Clint Watson writes in  Facebook Like Button Count Inaccuracies:

The Facebook “like” buttons you see embedded on websites incorrectly report the number of “people” who “like” something. Specifically, the button can inflate the displayed count of people.  While this is fine when all you want to do is track some general level of “engagement” with a particular item, it was not accurate for the use I needed – counting each “like” as a vote in our BoldBrush Online painting competition.

What I needed is a way to get the number of actual people who “like” something.  And there is a way to retreive that information from Facebook, but it is often a different number from what is shown on the “like” button itself.

If you are a geek – here’s the bottom line of this post:

If you’re using the Facebook “Like” Button Social Plugin and you need an accurate count of the actual number of people who have clicked the “like” button, you can’t rely on the number reported by the button itself.  You need to retrieve your URL’s “fan count” number via Facebook’s Open Graph API.

Hat tip to Zach Seward for bringing this to my attention.

Would you quit Twitter? Reflections on personal media choices

Wow. If You Think Quitting Booze Freaks People Out, Wait ‘Til You Quit Twitter.

Very interesting insights from TechCrunch’s Paul Carr.

I think there is much to be said for periodically cutting back on (or eliminating) anything that feels absolutely essential or habitual to you, to gauge how much you really need it.

In the last year I asked myself, “Do I need a house?” Nope. I’d like to have a house again, but I can be happy without one.

Several years ago I wondered, “Do I need a car?” Nope — and I’m much happier without one. Same with printed books: “Do I need several crammed bookcases around to reassure me that I’m smart or that I won’t get bored?” Again, no — I’m far happier with my Kindle and with being able to make better use of limited space.

I doubt that I’d ever entirely quit using social media because in my case it has vastly improved my life in many ways. But in the last couple of months I’ve cut back on it quite a lot — some days I post a lot, but others I don’t post at all (and a post-free day NEVER used to happen to me). I feel less compulsive about it.

However, I have definitely increased my use of two kinds of social media tools in recent months: social bookmarking tools and Facebook… Continue reading

Facebook fan page hack: How to publish multiple feeds to your fan page wall

I recently created a Facebook fan page for the RJI Collaboratory — a community of journalists, developers, and others who are building the future of local and niche news, supported by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Yes, the Collaboratory has a Ning community site. However, it’s always easier to engage people when you go where they are, rather than demanding they come to your site just to talk and share. Hence the fan page — so we can bring the activity of the Collaboratory to our members who spend more time on Facebook than on the Collaboratory site.

I still hate Facebook, but since it’s so damn popular I have no choice but to use it, especially to connect with various communities. One of the many things that annoy me about Facebook is how difficult they make it to import content from several different feeds onto a fan page’s comment wall.

I’m by no means a Facebook expert, but I just hacked a solution to that particular problem, and thought I’d share it…

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