Friday, July 31, 2009

14 Facebook Ills (and How to Cure Most of Them)

From tracking the Jonas Brothers to organizing the Iranian democracy movement, Facebook is the most powerful network -- at the moment -- for linking people up around town or around the world. Love it or hate it, you really can't avoid it.

Which is what makes the site's various bugs, glitches, and buried features so painful. They are intimidating and off-putting to newbies, and continuing irritants even to obsessive fans. We polled both types, using our network on -- what else? -- Facebook, to find out what irks our "Friends" the most. We also trolled the Web for top complaints.

Then we sat down with Facebook to see if they had a fix -- or at least an explanation -- for each gripe.

At least the social network is aware of its foibles. "A lot of things are not as intuitive as we'd hope," our contact at Facebook, Kathleen, told us. "But there's actually a lot of functionality there that a lot of people just don't find."

In most cases, they were able to show us some workaround, or they said that a fix was in the works. Only in a few cases were the ills incurable. Read on for our list of common Facebook pains -- as told to us by users -- and the best pain relievers.

1. Too much information
The pain: "FB got rid of the tool for changing how much news and what kind of news you get from various friends. Now it's a fire hose." -- Anonymous Patient
The diagnosis: A while ago ago, Facebook changed its setup to a stream format in which all your friends' news comes pouring in. You no longer have the option to choose more or less news from any friend.
The relief: Partial cure. While some people will always miss the old style, here's what you can do with the current format.
Create a friend's list for people you want to hear from (i.e. leaving out the vapid chatterboxes). That list -- and all others -- will appear in the "stream filters" sidebar on the left of your home page. Then drag that friends list to the top of the sidebar, and by default you will see only updates from those people when you log in. To see what others are up to, just click on other friends lists or simply on "News Feed." The video below shows how to do it.

2. Getting tagged in bad photos
The pain: "I even know this one girl who was tagged in a photo that was taken when she weighed like 300 pounds and her boyfriend saw it. yikes!"-- Patient Tuan
The diagnosis: With over 15 billion photos, and 900 million added every month, Facebook is as much a picture-sharing site as a networking tool. One cool -- but also perilous -- feature is the ability to tag someone in a photo so anyone can search for pictures of them. However, not all your friends are great photographers, and you don't always look your best.
The relief: Partial cure. Unfortunately, there's no "don't tag me" setting. You can remove tags, but that in itself is a pain. You can also tweak the privacy settings so that only you or only certain people, such members of a specific friends list, can view the photos. See below for a demonstration.

3. Having to 'Reply All'
The Pain: "Actually, I find it stupid and annoying that I can't just reply back to you... my only option is to hit 'reply all.'"-- Patient Lorena
The Diagnosis: "A lot of people use Facebook messages almost like e-mail," said Facebook spokesperson Kathleen, "and it doesn't' quite yet have the functionality of email." For example, you can't easily reply back to a single person on a group message. The default is to reply to everyone.
The Relief: Partial cure. There has long been a little "Reply" button under each person's name in a group conversation. Previously, clicking it simply opened a blank message, but now it auto-populates the subject line. (Well-usually. Sometimes, it still provides a blank subject line.) But the reply still doesn't copy the thread of the conversation. So the person gets a response with no context.

4. No message forwarding
The pain: "You can't forward an e-mail chain in fb to new people who are not on the original routing list." --Patient Mary
The diagnosis: As we've said, Facebook messages aren't quite e-mail. While you can reply to someone, you can't send a message to other people who didn't get the original.
The relief: No cure yet. This ability simply doesn't exist, so far. But when we asked about it, the Facebook rep said, "We are working on the inbox and accepting suggestions for new abilities and functions." You can send any suggestion by going to the help center and entering the topic you'd like to comment on. Click here for complaints or suggestions about the inbox.

5. Too many offers and invites
The pain: "I have friends who are highly irritated by quizzes but they have to turn off the people or the quiz one-at-a-time -- tedious since they proliferate faster than rabbits." -- Patient Karen
"There is no way to say "I hate being poked or asked to join games" -- Patient Paul
The Diagnosis: Facebook is all about connecting and sharing, but some methods of that can be highly irritating. For example, there is the infamous poke -- the online equivalent of nonsensically yelling "Hey!"
Facebook also hosts many third-party applications, including games such as 'Mafia Wars,' which friends relentlessly invite you to join. The latest scourge, for many users, is the endless procession of personality-test quizzes, such as 'What Song Should Play When You Walk Into A Room.' After you complete one, the answers are pushed to all your friends, under the assumption that they care.
The relief: Off-label treatment. Facebook allows you to turn off most applications as you encounter them. But that can become a losing game of whack-a-mole. For better relief, view Facebook in the Firefox (Mac, Windows), Web browser. Install a scrip-running add-on called Greasemonkey, and then get the Facebook Purity Script to automatically zap all third-party applications. (You can also install scripts for other browsers, but the process is far less intuitive. See the FB Purity page for instructions.) Sadly, this fix won't block Facebook's own apps, including the pointless poke.

6. Mind-boggling interface
The pain: "The redesign just sucks... It's so busy, you can't really keep track of people's status etc. any more, it's just too much." – Anonymous Patient
"The new interface makes it difficult to find things, such as events and notes... This glitch is the most batty-inducing. " -- Patient Julianne
The diagnosis: Facebook is a hodgepodge of features and applications that seem to proliferate faster than any one can keep track of, let along organize logically. Old-timers had at least gotten used to the original setup, and the current design continues to throw them.
The relief: Partial cure. The company is starting to streamline the interface. In the coming weeks, the number of privacy settings will be cut in half, for example. One step you can take now is to create shortcuts to the apps you use most often -- such as Events or Notes -- by adding them to the application toolbar at the bottom left of any page. See the video below for a demonstration.

7) Like rude guests, some apps won't leave
The pain: "Somehow, I have installed a bunch of ridiculous apps that I'd like to get rid of, but I can't figure out how to delete them." -- Patient Sean (yours truly)
The diagnosis: While we were following Facebook's advice to create shortcuts to apps, we decided to click on the "Edit Applications" option and do a little housecleaning. Many apps have an "X" mark to the right that you can click to delete the program. But just as many didn't.
The relief: Possibly incurable. Facebook told us that the "X" marks should appear for every program, but they simply don't. If anyone knows how to get rid of all this crap, please tell us!

8. Endless requests
The pain: "All these invites just keep piling up." -- Patient Phil
The diagnosis: It seems that people -- or robots -- are constantly asking something of you on Facebook. They want to be your friend, or recommend a friend. Or Facebook's algorithms recommend friends. Then there are all the specialized Facebook Groups, and of course the crushing load of games, quizzes, and other applications.
The relief: Curable. If you were very conscientious, you could carefully consider each request. But you can also nuke the whole lot, or chunks of it. Go to "Requests" on the upper right of your home page, click "See All," and then click "Ignore All." You can eliminate all the current invites or just certain types, such as the pending application requests.

9. Not getting the message
The pain: "When I messaged the group, on friday morning, that i looked forward to seeing everyone that night, the message arrived 36 hours later, saturday afternoon." -- Patient Andy
"I have the same issues with delayed e-mails that I'll get days after they're sent via Facebook." -- Patient Deanna
The diagnosis: By its own admission, Facebook has been having a hard time delivering messages -- especially to large groups. "This has happened to some users in the past both as the result of a bug as well as when a user needs to clear their cache," Facebook told us.
The relief: Possibly cured. Facebook thinks it's fixed the bug. They also suggested regularly clearing the Web browser's cache to eliminate old copies of files from Facebook that might conflict with the current versions on the site. We haven't encountered delayed messages lately. If you have, please drop us a line.

10. A Calendar isn't on the Agenda
The pain: "How can a social networking site -- which features event invites and tracks birthdays -- not have a built-in calendar." -- Patient Sean
The diagnosis: Though Facebook performs many calendar functions, such as sending invites for events, there is nothing resembling a standard calendar where you can view everything at a glance. And Facebook reps didn't mention any plans to add one.
The relief: Off-label treatment. Facebook's suggestion was to install a third-party calendar app. The best we have found is 30 Boxes. It easily picks up all your Facebook events and can import entries from both Microsoft Outlook and Apple iCalendar, as well as push changes to Outlook or iCalendar. Automatic synching between 30 Boxes and other programs isn't possible yet, but it's purportedly in the works.

11) Usability hits the road for mobile apps
The pain: "On facebook for the iphone: if there's a way to find event pages for things that i've rsvp'd or been invited to, never can find's on the iphone that i want to check the address when i'm en route, etc." -- Patient Andy
"On my BlackBerry app, I rarely get updates, for some reason." -- Patient Tom
The diagnosis: With so many bugs on the Web site, it's no wonder that Facebook hasn't gotten around to fixing all its mobile apps. Event info is missing, for example.
The Relief: No cure yet. Facebook didn't offer us much hope here, other than to say that "We are constantly looking to improve these applications and will pass that suggestion along." Feel free to chime in here.

12. It's hard to relive good times
The pain: "I set up a bimonthly meeting, and when I went to copy it for the next meeting, it wasn't an option. I'd have to create it from scratch. Stupid. You should be able to copy it to set a new date and modify details." -- Patient Mary
The diagnosis: Say you throw a birthday party. And a month later, you decide to invite all the people over again for a picnic. You'll have to create a brand new invite again, even if the only thing that changes is the date. That's especially frustrating for Facebook groups, which are likely to have recurring events such as meetings.
The relief: No cure yet. "Groups obviously haven't been worked on for a while," Kathleen from Facebook told us, confessing that she encounters this problem with invites to her soccer team's games. Again, they offered to pass the suggestion along. Click here to chime in.

13. Too many clicks to accept Friends
The pain: "When I get a friend request, I'd like to accept it and also send a message to the person such as 'Hi!' or 'Great to be back in touch.' But I can't do that in one step." -- Patient Sean
The diagnosis: When reviewing your friend requests, you have two options -- accept or send a message. But you can't do both at the same time. And if you chose to accept first, the notice disappears, so you have to then visit the friend's page and select "Send a Message."
The cure: None. Facebook doesn't consider this to be a problem, saying "After accepting a friend request, most people want to go to their new friend's profile anyways to see what content they are sharing." Sometimes we do, but not always. So we'd like to have the option of accepting and greeting in one step.

14. Stream filters don't actually filter
The pain: "My stream filters sidebar on the home page is constantly cluttered with offers for new apps I don't want, like 'Pieces of Flair' and 'Vampire Wars.' If it's a filter, isn't it supposed to weed out the junk, not promote it?" -- Patient Sean
The diagnosis: Like the Application Toolbar at the bottom of every page [Link to 6. Mind-Boggling Interface], the stream filters provides a handy shortcut for commonly used apps, as well as for friends lists. We like that. What we don't like, though, is the pile of crap applications that appears when you click the "More" button at the bottom. These aren't even applications that you've installed. They are just random ones asking for your attention. And they really crowd Facebook's iPhone application.
The relief: Possibly incurable. Facebook didn't answer our questions about this, so we don't know if they have any plans to change it.

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