Before even getting into my experiences with Facebook Home, I must first admit, I’m a reluctant Facebook user. Facebook’s popularity began to grow right around my senior year of college, but I never really felt a strong desire to join. If I wanted to keep in touch with friends in different schools/cities, I had AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Through AIM I could communicate directly with friends, and share photos and website links through my AIM profile. I also saw no reason to complete an online Facebook profile when all my friends already knew the superficial information it would contain from the myriad of chain emails we all passed around in the late 90s/early 2000s. Furthermore, having witnessed the rise and fall of MySpace, I figured Facebook would be just another passing fad. But there I was in the fall of 2005, a freshly minted college graduate, bored out of my mind working as an Administrative Assistant in a Legal Staffing agency, and wondering where it all went wrong. It was in that moment that I joined Facebook.
At first, I felt completely vindicated by not joining sooner as what I found was hardly exciting. At this point in Facebook’s history there was no newsfeed. To get updates on my friends, I had to visit their profile pages individually. Once the newsfeed became a reality, however, I found myself using the site more frequently; typically multiple times a day. My usage increased further when I purchased my first iPhone. In recent years, however, my use of Facebook has declined. For my own purposes, I simply found Twitter to be more useful.
It is in this environment that I find myself at the launch of Facebook Home. Facebook Home represents the company’s biggest bet on mobile, Android in particular. The question, therefore, is can a lapsed Facebook user really come home again?
What is Facebook Home?
At its core, Facebook Home is an Android launcher. As best as I can describe it, a launcher refers to the UI/UX elements of a smartphone’s home screen and app drawer. On Android, one can install a number of launchers that not only change the look of the phone, but also add additional functionality such as the ability to add more rows of icons to the home screen. Being able to change the launcher at will is one of the great features of Android, as it allows for deeper levels of customization.
The Facebook Home launcher takes one’s Facebook Newsfeed and makes it their lock screen and home screen. The best approximation I can make for the look of Home is the cover page for Flipboard, as the various newsfeed updates cycle through at a constant rate. Having the newsfeed as home/lock screen means that any posts made by one’s friends, whether they be images, status updates, etc., are displayed at all times on the home/lock screen. It also allows for faster access to Facebook’s features. For example, double-tapping on an image or status update from the home/lock screen performs a thumbs up. Of course, the biggest drawback to having one’s newsfeed as home/lock screen is that there really isn’t a way to ultimately control what content shows up on the phone. While it’s easy to hide or ignore unwanted information when using the Facebook app, it is not as easy to avoid on Home. Facebook take note, it’s time for a thumbs down button.
Home also makes changes to the app drawer, creating one page for favorite apps, and another that lists all apps. Gone are widgets and folders, the former of which I missed the most. Having widgets for things like email, Twitter, Voicemail, Podcast player, etc. make navigating a smartphone easier and information more accessible. I know iOS users may be used to staring at row after row of apps, but I no longer am. One can also post a photo, check-in, or update their status from the app drawer.
Home also makes some changes to how one receives and responds to messages on Android. When paired with Facebook Messenger, Home makes sending texts or Facebook messages easier through the use of “chat heads.” Chat heads are little bubbles that appear when one receives an SMS text or Facebook message from their friends. The bubble displays the person’s photo, and when tapped, allows the user to respond to the message or discard it without having the exit whatever app they were using previously. Chat heads can be moved to anywhere on either side of the screen, and while multiple heads can stack on one another, they cannot be individually separated.
Of all the new features, chat heads are my favorite. I’ve always wanted the ability to respond to texts from anywhere on the phone, and chat heads make it look easy. Fortunately, chat heads can be enabled via Facebook Messenger independent of using Facebook Home.
It’s Just Not that Interesting
Even with these new features, however, Facebook Home just isn’t that interesting to me. More accurately, Facebook itself remains a social network from which I derive few pleasures. Like any social network, Facebook’s value is dependent upon the content being shared by those in one’s network. There once was a time when our co-workers, parents, and prospective employers weren’t on Facebook, and my friends posted posted funny (i.e., inappropriate) pictures, wrote embarrassing status updates, and quite simply, shared too much. Today, my Facebook Newsfeed is mostly comprised of pet photos, engagement announcements, and photo’s of friend’s kids. Yes, this is me complaining about getting older, but ultimately, this isn’t the type of content I traditionally seek. On most days, I’m generally more interested in what is going on in the world, than what’s going on in your world. In fact, the entire time I used Facebook Home, I kept thinking wouldn’t it be cool if my Twitter feed took over my lock screen? (Yes, HTC, I realize that’s sort of what Blinkfeed is designed for, so I am intrigued to give it a try now.)
There and Back Again
For the Facebook user, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Facebook Home. The interface is fast and smooth, and it truly does make interacting with Facebook easier. The problem, therefore, is a personal one. If one wasn’t enamored with Facebook before Home’s release, I don’t see how Home will change their mind. While I won’t be using Home much longer, Facebook can at least take solace in the fact that I will continue using Messenger (at least until Google provides a solution). Love those chat heads.