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Facebook Relents on Home Page Changes

Facebook protest over redesign
Facebook users are nothing if not passionate.

In the few weeks since the social networking giant took the lid off of its plans to redesign the site with a more real-time feel, members of the community have been in an uproar, forming groups and launching apps demanding Facebook bring back the old layout.

Facebook listened, and has come forward with tweaks to the redesign that it hopes will quell the unrest, promising to make the home page less cluttered and easier to navigate.

"Redesigns are generally hard to manage, in part because change is always hard and in part because we may miss improvements that any individual user may like to see," Facebook Product Director Chris Cox wrote in a blog post, adding that "everyone uses the site differently."

Facebook's recent changes were inspired by the idea of real-time communication. It introduced a Twitter-like status-update feature, and started publishing every activity a person's friends shared in the news feed, which it renamed the real-time stream.

"In the last few weeks, you've seen us shift the main emphasis toward real-time conversations and updates as the entry point to Facebook," Cox said.

But users protested that the new site was cluttered, that too much information that they didn't care about was thrust in front of them.

In response, Cox said Facebook will soon roll out more granular filters so users can screen out updates related to their friends' applications. Many Facebook users had complained that they were being inundated with things like the results of movie-trivia quizzes people in their network had taken.

Facebook also said it will tweak the filters on the left side of the page to give users more control over which friends' activities appear in the stream. Eventually, Facebook hopes to expand the filtering system to provide a snapshot of all the activity across a user's network.

But even as it gives users the ability to filter out more content, Facebook is doubling down on its push into real-time communication. Soon Facebook will give its members the option of turning on a live updating feature for the stream on their home page, so people won't have to refresh the page to get the latest news from their friends.

Soon, photos tagged with people's friends will also begin showing up in their stream, Cox said.

The highlights section on the right side of the page will also update more frequently, he said. In an effort to make the page more navigable, friend requests and event invites will move to the top of the right side.

The conciliatory spirit of Cox's blog post fits with Facebook's recent showings of sensitivity toward its users. After a recent skirmish over a change to the site's terms of service, where it appeared that Facebook was asserting ownership of all the content its users posted, even after they had closed their accounts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a press conference to unveil a new approach to the site's governance. Facebook posted a statement of principles and a usage agreement on its Web site, inviting users to submit comments that it would review and consider when drafting the final version.

Cox assured users that Facebook puts new products and site changes through rigorous review and testing with smaller groups before they are deployed to the entire community.

"We know that no amount of testing is as valuable as what you have to say," he said. "For this reason, we will always look to you, our users, to tell us what is working and what isn't so we can continually make improvements."