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Teaching an old Dog new tricks

Monday 18th June 2012

Iain

Octofeed, a new ‘Skin’ for facebook, attempts to improve on every aspect of your beloved social network feed.

I recently came across an interesting article over on www.fastcodesign.com showcasing a new website which aims to establish a new way of looking at your Facebook data. Obviously if you don’t use Facebook, this article is not for you.

The idea is simple. Login to Octofeed with your Facebook account details, and away you go. Octofeed’s primary focus appears to be this: simplify your data, and display it in an intuitive manner.

The first thing you will notice is the navigation, or rather, lack of it. Gone is the ugly left hand navigation bar. Facebook’s standard 3 column layout (4 with the chat side bar expanded) has been replaced by a 2 column layout. The site has been simplified into two sections, used as the primary navigation, ‘The Feed’ & ‘My Wall’. Clicking these links simply filters the data displayed on the page.

Layout

The layout works well by giving the content of the post more real estate (just over 1/4 on a desktop), be it an image, video or text. Images and video are handled well, automatically scaling to fill the left column. With this said, having video content automatically play on load is incredibly annoying. The justification for this being that YouTube automatically plays. Well, this is not YouTube, and is unintuitive, uses up unnecessary bandwidth, and as most users will probably agree with, I really don’t want to watch 90% of the garbage posted to my Facebook news feed. Users do not mind having to click play.

The layout is indeed much simpler than Facebook’s, but too much white space and some strange spacing leave the page looking confused, with some elements appearing to float on the page, with too much padding. The header area is a good example of this. The design is responsive, which actually works much better on mobile devices in terms of the style and layout.

Visual style

Whilst some people may like the visual style of Octofeed, many will simply say the style is trying to be cool, or ‘Hipster’. And Octofeed does just that, adopting for a very distinct, but hardly unique, and overdone, visual. The logo is a good example of this trendy design, and something that perhaps carries a short expiry date. It would certainly not look out of place on a flyer for a retro electronica club night in Shoreditch, though. The iconography is a little obscure in places, a triangle representing ‘share’, for example.

The typography is a little confusing. In the Fast Co. Design article, the designer states ‘On Octofeed, we bump up the size and change the font on text that we think should be emphasized. This helps you locate or ignore information elements more quickly’. This idea is great in theory, but doesn’t really translate well in the Octofeed implementation of it. There are too many typefaces trying to grab your attention, and a mix of sans-serif and serif, seemingly with no correlation between information hierarchy and font style. The information regarded as less important is set in 10pt Verdana, which is too small in my opinion. In addition to the small text, the larger text used to indicate important information is too large in comparison, a finer, more subtle balance is required.

As mentioned before the design has a responsive layout, although the text does not resize with the layout. This means on my large 27” screen, the multitude of text sizes gives the impression of clutter and confusion, rather than the desired clarity. Facebook is functional and is not particularly attractive visually, but it works.

I know what I like, and I like what I know

Facebook works because of it’s simplicity as an interface. Limited use of fonts and link styles give a clear indication to the user. You instinctively know what is a header, a link, or plain text. It’s not pretty, but you know how to use it, and how to digest the content.

This is probably because you have been using it for years. Facebook users cover a huge demographic (just about everybody), so the user interface being easy to understand is a requirement. Using a new interface to view your Facebook content is not something I imagine a vast majority of users would be interested in. Not unless, of course, the tool was perfectly designed. Unfortunately in this instance, it is not.

“If it ain’t broke…”

So Facebook works. Slowly. The Facebook mobile application is, in my experience, painfully slow to update. This is because of the timeline view. Larger graphics and more information equals more database calls, and more strain on your devices memory. The Facebook mobile website suffers similar issues.

Octofeed is a little bit quicker in a mobile browser. This is due to the streamlined content, and less information on screen. I champion Octofeed in respect to this, I think it is certainly a step in the right direction. Facebook’s news feed is content rich, the question is, how to simplify that information and package it in nice container, and create something Facebook users will be willing to adopt?

Overall

Octofeed is essentially a styled up news feed. There are no other options to allow you to take advantage of Facebook’s features. Groups, friends & all other functionality has been stripped out. This is a negative point, as users want all their options in one window.

Having a fast loading, minimal approach for displaying Facebook’s data is a good idea, and Octofeed looks good if you like the style, and is useable. I think this is a good start, and with better execution, and some tidying up, perhaps I would use a similar web application to view my Facebook feed.

Further reading

You can read the original article here, ‘Octofeed Puts A Slicker Skin On Facebook, Hinting At Big Missed Opportunities’.

You can have a play with Octofeed at www.octofeed.com.

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