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7 Facebook Usability Mistakes That Drive Users Crazy, Part I

Facebook once knew us better than we knew ourselves.  Over one million people joined a group to protest the Newsfeed when it launched in 2006, which the founder apologized for after the fact, not failing to mention in his open letter that we found out about this group because of the Newsfeed.   The newsfeed became our main source of information — letting us stalk effortlessly and changed how we discovered news, music, and who just broke up.

The platform brought social discovery to the web, enabling us to securely log in with our real identity and leverage our social data for a more social experience for everyday online activities.  Facebook did not just nail “social” — it created it.  But where they lag — and where Google+ can beat them, is usability.

We put Facebook to the test with a panel of testers (all were required to have over 100 friends, spend over 30 minutes on Facebook per day, and were Americans between the ages of 20 and 40), and we listened to them voice their frustrations aloud as they navigated the site performing several assigned tasks.

Part I of this series will address privacy controls, Part II will address lists and groups, and Part III will address core features that Facebook has changed — including the new chat feature.

Privacy settings are not where users expect them to be when they need them.

1.  No easy way to control privacy settings on individual albums

Users cannot view album privacy controls when they access their photos from their profile. When users clicked on an individual album, it was unclear to multiple testers that clicking “Edit Photos” is the way to control the album’s privacy setting.   Watch this user experience extreme confusion, desperately searching for a lock icon to switch the album privacy setting.

She was not alone in her frustration.  Moreover, we discovered that the Profile Pictures album does not even have an “Edit Photos” option!   When asked to change their Profile album setting, users could not identify where they were supposed to go.  Watch this clip:

Suggestion: Facebook should add a privacy control button next to each album (including the Profile Pictures album).

Don’t take it from us!  UserTesting asked users four written follow-up questions (an included feature of our service), including, “What would make managing photo privacy controls easier for you.”  All users wanted this.  One user who spends 2-3 hours on Facebook every day for work and personal use responded, “It would be nice if the photo privacy controls were built into each photo album, so I wouldn’t have to go to the privacy control settings page and click through the various tables.”

2. The main dashboard to control privacy settings is not useful 

The main Privacy Settings page only lets you set all privacy controls to one default setting.  However, none of our testers had used Facebook default settings, so all had to find the tiny “Customize settings” link on the page.  (Note:  Two tried to initially click the the large Customize tab on the left, which they discovered was not a link.)

After users clicked the tiny “Customize settings” link, the “Edit Album Settings” link on the next page was difficult or impossible for them to find (we had ask them to edit photo album privacy controls).  It is buried in between larger buttons and other controls that are in bold font.   When skimming the page, it’s very easy to miss.  Watch as this user gets to the “Customize settings” page, but clicks on all the wrong things:

Suggestion:  Having one page to seamlessly control privacy settings.  Having icons next to privacy controls may help, too.

3. Privacy settings are unclear and difficult to access

A.  The “Preview my profile” button does not convey the power of the feature and is buried.  People who knew about this feature had difficulty finding it, and others did not realize that clicking this button let you preview your profile in the eyes of another person.  You can click on this button (if you click Account > Privacy Settings > Customize Settings > Preview my profile).   This advanced web user, who spends 2 hours on Facebook per day, everyday, takes over 2 minutes to find the button!  Watch video:

Currently, when you click “Preview my profile” it by default show how the general public can see your profile (people who are neither friends or friends-of-friends), which vaguely states “This is how your profile appears to most people on Facebook.”  While you can also type in certain friends to see how they view your profile, you cannot see how friends-of-friends view your profile. 

Suggestion: On the main Privacy Settings page, there should be the “Preview my profile” button with an adjacent field present where you can type in specific friends or friend lists.  It should include a dropdown selection bar, so you can see how “Everyone,*” “Friends of Friends,”and Friend Lists (if any) view your profile.  (*Facebook calls its public setting “Everyone” throughout the site, so that’s why we suggest they say it, instead of “most people on Facebook.”)

B. This specific feature should be in proper context.  There is a tiny little box on the main privacy settings page you can check to let your friends’ friends see the photos in which they are specifically tagged (and only those photos) in your albums, without having to grant entire album access to all “Friends of Friends.” 

It’s an all-or-nothing feature that applies to all albums (and posts), however.  Furthermore, it’s odd that this box is not located on the “Edit Album Privacy” page within “Custom Privacy Settings,” or does not exist next to album privacy settings if you access them individually.

Facebook should give users the option of letting friends of people tagged in your photos see them when setting album privacy.  In this case, this option should only appear if the user selected “Friends only.”  If the user selected “Everyone” or “Friends of Friends,” it renders this option redundant.

C. Not clear what “Block Lists” was.  Some thought this was how you could block certain “friend lists” of people you created from seeing certain aspects of your profile.  This user thought you could limit access to certain friend lists by clicking here, and experiences confusion.

You can’t actually do that if you click there.  You can only block individual users or apps.

Label this more clearly.  Perhaps “block users and apps.”


Privacy settings are not located in the right context when users need to access them.  It took users a lot of digging to find out how to do basic privacy management tasks, including advanced web users who spend over 2 hours on Facebook per day!  One tester said it best: “The privacy settings can get really complicated… even if I’ve done one before, it’s been awhile, maybe I’ve forgotten or the way it’s done is changed.”  Users want to see one simple page where they can edit their privacy settings, and ways to control privacy from within individual parts of their profile.We hope you stay tuned for Part II and Part III because it’s going to get tough.   Usability testing is about embracing tough love, and believing that there are no stupid users — only designs that need to be maximally optimized.