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Facebook Integration: User Experience considerations

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11 November 2010

Facebook is permanently in the hot seat about either usability or security. It’s not that they’re doing it blatantly wrong, it’s just that they’ve set up an extremely complex playing field for themselves.

Twitter sticks to certain self-simplifying principles, like full SMS compatibility. Facebook, on the other hand, has a much more liberated approach to adding complexity. This obviously comes at a cost, especially when dealing with more than half a billion users.

How does this affect applications and websites that implements Facebook integration?

Facebook Security vs User Experience

It’s important to note that, when it comes to Security and Usability, Facebook is engaged in a tug of war with itself. This is always the case with Security vs Usability. Security always comes at a cost of usability. Why?

Consider good old-fashioned lock-and-key security. Users lock their houses, cars, bicycle sheds … only to unlock them again later. It serves no purpose to the user, except in the relatively unlikely event of an attempted breach of security. Now, if the breach was successful, it means the security mechanism failed anyway. If the breach was unsuccessful, the user will most likely not know it.

In other words, security adds effort without perceivable outcome. It’s a hassle. How does this translate to Facebook’s user experience?

When integrating with Facebook in your own application, or on your own website, there are a few sparce, ready rolled social plugins you can use without getting the user to allow an application access to their account. They all do require the user to log into Facebook – a necessary evil in terms of User Experience, where an extra step (or click) could mean the difference between success and failure. Between DOS and Vista.

Most of the time, though, integration means moving beyond the basic functionality addressed by these plugins. The only way forward is to create an application, and get the user to:

Allow the application access to their profile

Facebook Application Install

Agree to special permissions the application asks for

Facebook Extended Permissions

That’s another two steps. This is quite a trade-off, presenting every potential user with three extra steps (including the login) before they can use your application. In return, you get the potential attention of the Facebook masses. Or do you?

Most Facebook users’ news feed setting is set to the default, which only shows so-called Top News, filtered by Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm. Do yourself a favour: compare the amount of posts in the last 24 hours in Top News and Most Recent in your Facebook feed. I consistently get a ratio of less than 1:100. That means, when aiming a post at me, your chances are less than 1/100 to get it into my Top News feed!

On the upside, users are getting used to the Facebook user experience, in the same way they got used to locking their houses, or sheds. There’s also a lot to gain in terms of shared content when integrating with Facebook, which, when applied creatively, might draw users to your application or website just by virtue of it being very good. (which is the right reason after all, isn’t it?)

So – to summarize:

  • Try and do as much as possible with Facebook Social plugins before using your own application
  • When using a custom application, ask only for the extended permissions you really need, so as not to frighten users away from your application
  • A Facebook application is not an effective way to post links to your site. They get filtered too heavily
  • Think creatively about what you want to do. Users will expect something great behind that wall of dialogs. If it is great, they will come back, and so will their friends

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