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7 Things I Learned From Facebook's Profile Redesign and Mark Zuckerberg 's '60 Minutes' Interview

By Sree Sreenivasan | December 6, 2010 4:36pm

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

Facebook had a big day Sunday. For one thing, the world's biggest social networking site — soon we'll refer to it simply as the world's biggest site, period — launched the newest redesign for its users' profile pages.

For another, Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed on "60 Minutes" by Lesley Stahl (see video) talking at length for the first time since the release of "The Social Network," a movie which had a devastating portrait of him and his motives for creating Facebook.

With all that in mind, here are some things I learned about Facebook since Sunday night.

Do get the new Facebook Profile, but...: You can activate your new Facebook profile by going to http://bit.ly/newfb10 (and hear from the employee who worked on it here).

But please note: once you change, you cannot go back. Some of you may grumble about it ("Why can't they ever just leave well enough alone?" a friend commented on my wall about the new design), but I recommend you make the switch. Why? Because Facebook will eventually force the change on you anyway, and it's important you take make some adjustments to how your profile is seen. 

I've been told that even if you don't make the switch right away, your friends are going to start seeing your profile in the new format when they visit your profile, so why wait?

Some things to like about the new profile: Photos are now attached to those you describe as your relatives (as well as others). It used to just say "Married to" with a text link to my wife's profile. Now there's a photo of her, too. You can now display  "Featured Friends" — which appears under your profile photo on the left rail — by selecting from one of your existing lists (yet another reason to create customized lists of your friends). I've chosen to feature my "family" and "alumni" lists, along with a link to a generic "Friends" list (though I am not sure how they determine whose faces to show there). I do like the new, larger-format profile photos (I've written before about the importance of getting your profile photo right). 

I like that you can link directly to people who inspire you, sports you play, books and movies you like. This is all an effort to increase time spent on Facebook as people gain more insight about you. But please be careful about what you put in those sections. Potential employers may not be thrilled to see certain of your favorite pastimes.

A friend spelled it out more clearly: "Like the dynamic info displayed under your name (job, school, location, birthday) and the ability to tag people at jobs, schools, etc. I also appreciate the photos layout showing my tagged images seamlessly w/out having to thumb through multiple pages to see them all."

So many things to dislike about the new profile: It's a given that any redesign will be criticized. So I am trying to be as thoughtful and constructive as possible in my comments here. But there are many things to dislike here, including the fact that Facebok introduces changes all of a sudden, with no public beta-testing, no surveys of feature requests (that I've seen), etc. I know "Facebook knows best" is the company philosophy, but surely more of its fans — I am one, despite this bullet point — would welcome opportunities to provide input that might actually be considered.

The most irritating change is the new info box at the top. Previously, you could use the free-form box under your profile photo to describe yourself anyway you liked. Now, the info box is pre-populated and highlights where you work, your city, etc. Yes, that is important, but for many users, their work doesn't define who they are. Also strange: my three languages (see above) aren't among the first things I'd want anyone to know. Any my birthday? Irrelevant 364 days a year — though you are all welcome to send gifts early and often. 

The Poke feature, which I haven't used in a more than a year, has been moved to the very top, giving it unnecessary prominence. I hear that in some circles (perhaps high schoolers), poking someone is an important part of flirting. But for the rest of us...?

While the photo bar across the top is intriguing, the photos that run (see my profile above) aren't exactly the same as those I see on my logged-in version. We all need to spend time re-curating the photos where we're tagged. Speaking of photos, there was a nice easy way to see all your photos with one click. No more. You now have to click on one of the images and then click "photos of me" to find your photo collection

For years now, I've complained about how you can't post a comment somewhere or make a profile change without broadcasting it to everyone. That problem has not been fixed. Why should people get separate announcement like these from me? "Sree added Tiger Woods to his favorite athletes" (don't kill me for liking Tiger's game, which is on the rebound now); and, "Sree added New York Yankees and 2 other pages to his favorites."

• Facebook is going after LinkedIn now: By emphasizing your work over almost everything else, it seems Facebook is setting its sights on LinkedIn. My friend with the opening comment above, also wrote me saying, "It's like [Facebook] weren't happy enough trying to be like Twitter. Now they've got to be like LinkedIn, too. Or something." I think there will always be a market for a standalone professional networking site like LinkedIn, so long as it keeps innovating and proving its utility for professionals. 

Mark Zuckerberg has had some media training: And there's nothing wrong with that. CEOs not running $35 billion companies spend weeks getting trained, so why not Zuckerberg? He's better on TV than he used to be (see his interview with Kara Swisher of AllThingsD earlier this year for a textbook example of how CEOs shouldn't look). He handled the questions about "The Social Network" topic pretty well, and came across much better than the twins who sued him did.  

"60 Minutes" is still relevant: "60 Minutes," despite all the upheaval in broadcasting, remains a must-watch show. It's a format that has endured all these years and will continue to do so. In the same episode that dedicated two segments to Zuckerberg, there was an in-depth interview by Scott Pelley with Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, which I hope some people saw that would not otherwise have. Plenty to be worried about in that department.

Despite the criticism of some tech-savvy folks, the Facebook segment was not aimed at them. It was aimed at the typical "60 Minutes" viewer — older, less tech-savvy, and just trying to understand what Facebook is. I meet a lot of these folks in my travels and workshops, including journalists trying to make sense of technology. They would have found the segment very useful (and I am not saying that just because former student Shachar Bar-On produced it).

Even kids can relate to Mark Zuckerberg: As I used to with my parents, we try to watch "60 Minutes" every Sunday with my kids. They often tune out for the war and economy stories, but they were mesmerized by the Facebook story. They know they can't be on it till they are 13, but they are extremely curious. They watched every second, asking questions about Zuckerberg and being impressed by the valuations of the company and his net worth (though they don't get numbers above a million). Being Indian parents, we used it as an opportunity to say, "see why it's important to study hard in school?"

If you've read this far, you might be interested in these other articles I have been reading about the new profiles, from The Next Web — Everything You Need to Know about the New Facebook Profiles; Mashable; PaidContent — How Mark Zuckerberg Fooled 60 Minutes. And here are my previous columns about "The Social Network" — what I learned watching the movie; and how the world reacted to the film. Here's a collection of tweets using the hashtag #zuck60 and a collection of comments using CoverItLive that were collected during the "60 Minutes" segment. 

What do you think? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.