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Facebook Must Make Home A Layer Atop Your Widgets And Homescreen, Not A Replacement

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“Where did my Android go?” is the common refrain of Facebook Home user reviews. We want the widgets and old homescreen we’ve meticulously curated. That’s why Facebook needs to preserve and offer quick access to the phone we’re used to if it’s going to make Home a hit. Facebook’s reading the reviews too, so bet on the early Home updates to make it more of a bonus than a trade-off.

Facebook proclaims “Home is a completely new experience that lets you see the world through people, not apps.” But that completely new experience disrespects the work we’ve done to personalize our phones — arranging apps and putting them into folders, choosing what goes in the coveted first screen spots, and building widgets of real-time information we care about. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice so much to get Home’s added benefits.

Luckily, Facebook has committed to releasing monthly updates for Home, with the first one expected on May 12th. There are plenty of “nice” features it could add, but before Facebook decorates Home, it needs to get the foundation cemented.

Opening The Doors

I spent some time poring through hundreds of Home reviews to get a sense of the public’s perspective. Journalists and techies, including me, focused on features like Cover Feed and Chat Heads. The somewhat complicated install process didn’t faze them much. But the average Joe got quite confused when he downloaded Home only to find his familiar Android experience had been evicted.

home-widgetsPlenty of people like it, and say they get used to it after a while. But many of the 1-star reviews dragging down Home read like this [sic]:

  • “Ugh! Not an intuitive app. Made my phone so frustratingly complicated to use that I uninstalled after just four or five hours. Unless major changes are made including an easy way to get to my home screen I will not reinstall.” – Victoria Wiley
  • “It literally took over my phone. Its almost as if it a whole new OS and not user friendly.” – joe smith
  • “Where are my widgets, not impressed” – David Marner
  • “It gets rid of everything u have and have to reset it” –J Erickson

Judging from these reviews and hundreds more I read, the first change Home needs is to do a better job of walking us through the transformation our phones are undergoing. Many people won’t be sure they’re supposed to select Home when asked which app to “Complete Action Using”. That should be explained up front. Then once Home is fully installed, Facebook should do a deeper tour not only of its own features, but of explaining what happened to the other parts of our phone and how to get back to them.

Preserving Personalization

Home has no widgets and no app folders, and users hate that. It won’t stay that way for long, though. Facebook Director Of Product Adam Mosseri told me when Home debuted that “There’s a lot of stuff we wanted to do in the launcher like folders and widgets. But that’s the beauty of the update cycle. We’re already working on stuff that will come out [in later versions of Home.]“‘

facebook-phone-screenSo is Facebook going to build its own foldering and widget-building system? Perhaps, but that doesn’t actually solve the problem prevalent in Home’s negative reviews. Users don’t want to do redundant work to re-personalize their phone.

That’s why I suspect Facebook will look for a way to integrate our existing folders and widgets within Home. This is a pretty fundamental shift for Home from a replacement launcher to a layer that rides on top of what we’ve already done to our phones. Ideally we’d be able to temporarily push Home aside to reveal our old homescreen and all our customization. Importing the folders and widgets we’ve already made into Home’s own app drawer would work, too.

Right now from Cover Feed you can swipe left for Facebook Messenger, right for the last app you used, and up to open your app favorites screen. I’d imagine Facebook would either add a down swipe to surface our former homescreens lying in wait underneath, or swap in this action for the app favorites up swipe.

With these fixes made, Facebook would get most of the prominence and immersive experience it wants from Home without forcing us to ditch our old system. That erases a huge barrier to installing and enjoying its “apperating system” and could help it grow beyond the 500,000 to 1,000,000 downloads it currently has. There’s a lot of people out there who want people to come before apps, just not instead of them.

About.com’s New CEO On How To Stay Relevant

Even with 84 million uniques each month, About.com tends to fly under the radar. But there is change afoot since IAC bought out About.com from the New York Times last year, most notably the appointment of Neil Vogel as CEO. We brought in Vogel, as well as Chief Strategy Officer Scott Kim (who also served as interim CEO for the past few months), to discuss how About might be changing in the foreseeable future.

Neil has only been at About for a little over a month, but he has big plans. It’s a three-pronged approach really, involving social, mobile, and user experience

Where social is concerned, Vogel mentioned that About hasn’t ever given the vertical any “water or sunlight,” which means it’s a huge opportunity to leverage thousands of expert guides (content producers) and the massive flood of traffic coming to the site each month.

He also revealed that 25 percent of About’s mobile traffic comes via mobile, and “it’s not cannibalistic traffic either, it’s a clear growth over the desktop traffic we’re seeing.” Confusing math aside, Kim explained that the mobile strategy doesn’t involve an app, since SEO is the primary driver of traffic to About.

“The goal with mobile is the same as desktop, which means that we need to have the best possible user experience so people will travel throughout the site,” said Kim.

I asked if SEO was enough for About, or if there are plans to bring users in more directly.

“SEO is a thing now. As the internet evolves, SEO will become less and less of a thing as Google and Bing are getting better and better at what they do,” said Vogel. “They want to give you the best content possible when you want to solve a problem, and we have great content.”

More important than how the consumer gets there, Vogel and Kim are concerned with keeping the user there. According to the dynamic duo, the plan isn’t a huge, monumental redesign.

“It’ll be 1,000 small things we do,” said Vogel. “If you look at what we’re doing 12 months from now next to where we are today, it will look like we did something drastic, but we didn’t. We’re going to do it one new thing at a time.”

After considering one of About’s greatest challenges, this plan actually seems much more logical. See, About is one of the top medical sites on the web, and it’s also one of the top food sites on the web. Vogel explained that it’s hard to get inspiration from competitors when you compete in so many verticals.

“The good news is there are a lot of ideas,” he said. “And the bad news is there are a lot of ideas.”

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