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Protests Greet Facebook's Redesign, Again

This is becoming a familiar cycle.

After Facebook dropped word late Friday afternoon that it was rolling out another set of changes to the layout of its home page, users flooded the site with thousands of comments, many coarsely negative, objecting to the redesign and threatening to abandon the site.

The weekend's outpouring had tallied more than 4,700 comments in response to the changes, with more continuing to roll in Monday morning.

The comment from Facebook user Hergen Thomas was typical of the mood: "No, thanks. Really. Change it back or give me an option to switch it off. But don't patronize me, especially when it's about my personal contacts."

Thomas and many others were expressing frustration with another set of changes to Facebook's design that caught them off guard, objecting to what they view as the heavy-handed decision-making process of a site that oversees an increasingly central component of their personal lives.

What did Facebook actually do?

Late Friday afternoon, engineer Raylene Yung put up a blog post explaining that Facebook was splitting the News Feed feature into two views.

Instead of the traditional feed, which aggregated and published the activities of people's friends, Facebook is now set up with a tabbed view where users click back and forth between what it's calling the News Feed and the Live Feed.

The reconstituted News Feed is billed as a feature that can help users catch up on the most interesting updates that have been posted since the last time they logged on.

"News Feed picks stories that we think you'll enjoy based on a variety of factors including how many friends have liked and commented on it and how likely you are to interact with that story," Yung explained.

The Live Feed is the real-time update feature that publishes all the activities across a person's network as they happen. Users can edit their preferences to keep certain kinds of updates from their feed, such as the pervasive quiz scores or virtual game results, as well as filter out updates from individuals or groups in their networks.

Facebook rolled out the real-time status-update feature in March, in a move that many saw as the company's effort to emulate the success of Twitter.

"One of our goals is to always be innovating and improving the site," Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin said when asked for comment on the changes.

Chin told InternetNews.com that Facebook takes its users' "feedback very seriously. We encourage people to send us constructive, detailed feedback and are committed to using it to inform how we build and improve the site for everyone."

In her blog post, Yung explained that the new changes were initiated in response to the feedback the company had received following the March redesign.

After all, those changes were met with howls of protest from the Facebook faithful similar to what transpired over the weekend. Users objected that Facebook seemed to insist on fixing something that wasn't broken, that the new layout was too cluttered, and that a community-driven company was acting with an apparent disregard for the wishes of its users.

A similar groundswell of opposition has accompanied many of the company's initiatives over the past few years, including the first introduction of the News Feed, which has since become one of Facebook's most essential features.

Noisy protests have also greeted the ill-fated Beacon advertising experiment, an earlier redesign in 2008, and a change to the site's terms of service, which appeared to assert ownership over users' data, even after they had terminated their account.

Each of those controversies has blown over, typically as a result of Facebook's decision to reverse a policy or give users more control over their experience on the site.

"Some of you may ask why we are changing the home page again," Yung wrote on Friday, evidently sensing the coming storm. "Like you, we know it can be disruptive when things are moved around, but we hope that these changes make Facebook a more valuable experience for you. We put a lot of thought into all the changes we make to the site and do a lot of testing before releasing anything."

As of this writing, the group "Change Facebook Back to Normal," formed as a petition to pressure the site to abandon the changes, has just over 1 million members. The group's goal is to reach 10 million.

Update adds comments from Facebook spokeswoman.