Monday, February 4, 2013

Facebook footer links

This is a rather daft usability oversight, to be honest. It concerns the set of footer links at the bottom of all Facebook pages.

This is what they look like:
Facebook footer links.
You'll notice I've taken this screenshot from Facebook's privacy settings page. The reason for this is that on the primary Facebook pages, Facebook actively prevents me from seeing these links.

Facebook's primary views (the News feed, Friend and Page Walls, Photo albums, etc.) display information feeds filled with a massive number of items. Obviously, trying to display these contents all at once is futile; therefore, Facebook displays them a few at a time. Good strategy so far.

When you reach the bottom of the current view of a feed, Facebook automatically lengthens the view, adding items from further back in the feed. (For convenience, let's call this type of view an auto-append view.) This has become a popular way of displaying feeds on the Web, recently. I have a few issues with this method; however, that's something I'll talk about later. The problem here is this: even while displaying auto-append views, Facebook still displays its footer links. You get to see them for about three seconds, before Facebook expands the feed, pushing the footer further down.

Now you see it...

...and now you don't.
It does this every time I scroll to the bottom, no matter what method I use (arrow keys, 'End' key, mouse scrolling). It's as if Facebook is playing keep-away with a piece of its UI, and it's aggravating.

You could argue that the links are accessible if you access a Facebook page that isn't an auto-append feed (like the settings page); however, I shouldn't have to visit another page in order to click on links that are clearly there on the front page. Furthermore, although two of the links in the footer ('Help' and 'Create an Advert') are available from the settings menu (which is a persistent part of Facebook's chrome), most of them aren't -- in fact, I haven't been able to find them anywhere else on the front page or in the chrome. (Confusingly, 'Privacy Settings' in the settings menu and 'Privacy' in the footer lead to different places. Meanwhile, 'Advertise on Facebook' and 'Create an Advert' lead to pages that are identical, except for slightly different title formatting. It's weird.)
The settings menu provides access to a different set of functions.
Even if the footer links were replicated exactly in an accessible part of the website, however, it would still be a problem. After all, how do I know the footer links are replicated if I can't see them? For all I know, there might be unique links down there that Facebook simply isn't letting me see. (Which it turns out there are.)

It's baffling that Facebook could leave a mistake like this on its website for so long. How would I fix it? One option would be to make feed views not automatically expand -- that way, anything at the bottom would be accessible. However, that would interfere with a feature (auto-expand views) that many users might like. (Personally, I think there needs to be a better system than append-based feeds, since they tend to get unwieldy, but that's a discussion for later on.)

I think the best method would be to incorporate the footer links into the persistent website chrome. They're clearly meant to be persistent, since they appear on every page; however, Facebook already has a place for displaying features persistently, and that's where these links should appear. (I wouldn't cram them all in the settings menu; instead, they should be divided into logical categories and grouped appropriately, perhaps using separate menus.) There's a rule here: if an information feed (or other information display) is going to expand into a space, don't put anything else important in that space. It'll simply disappear.

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