Facebook has gone back to the drawing board, again. But will its new redesign keep users on the social network — and bring back former fans?
On Thursday, the social network giant unveiled the first major revamp of its News Feed, the main page where users see what their friends have been up to, since its launch in 2006. The new newspaper-style page has a focus on photographs from Facebook and Instagram — the photo-filter site Facebook
There’s one problem, say some tech experts: Social networkers are notoriously fickle. Indeed, about 20% of American adults say they have stopped visiting Facebook, while more than 60% of active users say they have taken a break of several weeks or more, according to a survey released by the Pew Internet Project in February. “Social media competes with television, sports and the gym,” says Mike Vorhaus, president of media consulting firm Magid Advisors. “People only have 24 hours in the day, and they still need to eat, sleep and go to work.”
To be sure, even critics say it’s not as if Facebook is in danger of going out of style any time soon. With more than 167 million users in the U.S. and a whopping 1 billion worldwide, it remains the dominant social network. And some 41% of users reported checking in to the site more often in 2012 than they had in previous years, according to the Pew survey.
Still, Internet and retail experts question whether the revamp can help Facebook keep pace with the habits of its most loyal users. Branding expert Rob Frankel compares the challenge for Facebook and other social media networks with that of the local gym: Many members join and participate heavily for the first few days, weeks or even months — but then their usage drops off or they abandon it altogether. Others wonder if Americans are too glued to the social network. Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, for example, says his research shows that taking a break from Facebook may help reduce anxiety.
Too many changes to the site could also backfire, warn some experts. Before the company’s initial public offering in May 2012, Facebook redesigned the simple profile page into a two-column “Timeline,” which resulted in a backlash from many users who claimed it was too cluttered, says Darren R. Hayes, assistant professor at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems in Westchester, N.Y. “Facebook’s ever-changing features are being initiated as a quick remedy to increase usage and mollify burnt investors,” he says. “This will only agitate users further.”
In other words, Zuckerberg and Facebook must walk a fine line, analysts say: Encourage current and former users to spend more time online — without making them feel bored or like they’ve been taken advantage of. Facebook has around 1.05 billion monthly users, according to the company’s fourth-quarter results, but only 618 million daily users. The more personalized News Feed will go some way toward encouraging people to log in more often, knowing they can skip over irrelevant posts, says Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “I won’t have to spend half an hour a day to wade through my News Feed,” he says, but that focused News Feed means better targeting for advertisers.
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