Facebook surveys its users regularly about their thoughts on the site. Jane Leibrock, whose title at Facebook is user experience researcher, says it was about a year ago that she noticed people were complaining about ‘‘clutter’’ in their feeds. Leibrock asked them what they meant. It turns out that the different types of content flowing through people’s News Feeds — links, ads, photos, status updates, things people ‘‘liked’’ or commented on — were ‘‘making it difficult to focus on any one thing,’’ she says. ‘‘It might have even been discouraging them from finding new content.’’
The new design seeks to address the issue. There is a distinct feed for ‘‘all friends,’’ another for different groups of friends, one just for photos, and one for pages that users follow. As a result, says Chris Struhar, the lead engineer on the new design, the new feeds give people a way to see everything that’s going on.
‘‘The amount of stories you have available to see has continued to increase,’’ Struhar says. ‘‘What we try to do now is give you more control over what stories you see in your feed.’’
With that kind of control, the company hopes people will spend more time on the site and share more information about themselves so companies can target them better with advertisements.
Paul Friedman, a 59-year-old dentist in New York City, says he’s using Facebook less now than when he first signed on four years ago, but he’s not sure if the site has ‘‘become less interesting or that I am just less interested in it,’’ he says.
‘‘I think that it might have seemed more interesting in the past because it was a new ‘forum,'’’ Friedman says. ‘‘Now that it is not new, it takes more unique content to make it interesting.’’
That said, Friedman still uses Facebook to see if friends are organizing events, such as music gigs or yoga classes, or to check out interesting YouTube videos. He says seeing the same jokes reappear doesn’t really bother him.
‘‘Ninety-nine percent of it is a waste of time anyway,’’ he says. ‘‘If it wasn’t for the one percent, I'd close my account.’’
When it comes to people of a certain age, Friedman may be in the minority. Tammy Gordon, vice president of the AARP’s social media team, says the 50-plus set is just now settling into Facebook. The organization’s own Facebook page grew from 80,000 fans to a million last year. This age group is growing the fastest because older people tend to be latecomers to Facebook. According to a recent Pew survey, 32 percent of people 65 or older use social networking sites, compared with 83 percent of those 18 to 29.
‘‘They are not necessarily at that point where some of the younger generation is, where they have News Feed overload,’’ Gordon says.
Robert Worden, who is 62 and has nearly 1,100 friends on Facebook, isn’t overwhelmed. He says he got on Facebook two or three years ago primarily to establish a relationship with his estranged son, whom he didn’t see for a quarter century before he found him on Facebook.
Through his son, he also found out he had a granddaughter, who has been adopted and used Facebook to find her biological family when she turned 18. They are now all connected.
Worden, who lives in Paducah, Ky., says he probably wouldn’t have found his son were it not for Facebook, never mind his granddaughter. He also reconnected with people from his Memphis, Tenn., neighborhood using Facebook — people he had not seen in half a century. The neighborhood, he says, ‘‘literally fell apart’’ in the 1960s, ‘‘and we had never been able to get back together.’’
‘‘So someone said ‘why don’t you start a Facebook page?’’ he says. The group recently had its first reunion. Fifty people showed up.
Worden says Facebook is his ‘‘major communication tool to the world.’’
‘‘Other people use news and I don’t find the nightly news or daily news to be adequate,’’ he says. ‘‘On Facebook I can actually hear from people who are living in the places where things are happening, and I can get instant information.’’
Daniel Singer is 13 and, according to his public Facebook profile, he enjoys ‘‘designing beautiful user interfaces and sitting down at my desk and creating great iOS apps.’’ Last year, the eighth-grader created YouTell, a site that lets people ask for anonymous feedback from friends. You can use Facebook to log in, or email. As someone who designs applications, Singer calls Facebook’s graphical design ‘‘brilliant.’’ Still, he thinks the average teenager wants to see new stuff. Twitter comes to mind, along with Instagram and Pheed, a photo-text-video-audio sharing app launched last fall.Continued...