Facebook revamp part of efforts to keep users within site

Overhaul in social network not in direct retaliation to Google+, but to entice users to do and share more with friends without leaving Facebook, analysts say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Facebook's sweeping changes to social networking site do not represent a direct retaliation to rival Google+, analysts say. Rather, the ultimate goal is to keep users on the network, instead of going to external players, by letting users more easily organize, share and do more with content as well as connect with friends.

At its annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a slew of major changes to the social networking site including Timeline, which features a new way of viewing user profiles. Resembling a scrapbook, Timeline displays, on a single page, a complete and reverse-chronological view of everything a Facebook user is doing and has done on Facebook--from status updates to uploaded photos and applications used.

Another change Zuckerberg introduced was the update to Open Graph, which now features "a new class of social apps", allowing users to watch TV shows, movies and listen to music--that their friends are also doing--without leaving Facebook. The function is enabled through partnerships with media providers such as Hulu, Netflix and Spotify.

Not a Google+ offensive
Analysts told ZDNet Asia that Facebook's massive overhaul should not be perceived as a retaliation to rival Google+ which, just two days before, had moved out of beta into public availability. Launched in June, Google+ had collected 25 million users by August, according to ComScore.

Singapore-based Canalys principal analyst, Daryl Chiam, said some innovations from Google+ might have "accelerated FaceBook in this direction", but the changes and improvements Facebook made were actually "not entirely surprising and what users were already asking for".

Ovum's senior consultant Craig Skinner concurred that while competition from Google+ was certainly "an incentive for Facebook to speed up the process", these changes would have "come along sooner or later".

In a phone interview, Skinner said the key point to note was the restructuring of Facebook's interface that integrated different posts from different sources, including friends in one's network, posts from brands or celebrities that one subscribed to, and additional sources of third-party content such as video or photos.

While this particular concept emulated the Circles feature on Google+, the real aim was to encourage users to stay within Facebook and not move to third-party sites, said the Melbourne-based analyst.

Chiam added that the rationale behind the revamped user interface was to drive the level of user sharing and engagement. "Facebook is becoming an even more social platform. While some people dislike and are suspicious of changes, the outreach to new users continues unabated," he said in an e-mail.

For users already sharing much of their personal life, the changes would be seen as improvements. For those less active, being able to see more of the pertinent activities of their friends might coax them to participate more in the Facebook community, Chiam added.

Sharon Lim, a PR executive and Facebook user based in Singapore, said the Timeline would take some adjusting to. "[The way it] rearranges information into a digital scrapbook is pretty interesting visually. I like that it allows you to weave your life into a narrative of sorts," she told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Asked if the changes made it more incentivizing to stick with Facebook, Lim replied: "Most people, like my social circle, are taking some time to get the hang of Google+ and are probably resistant to switching over altogether since all their friends and content like photos are already on Facebook.

"Furthermore, I can now categorize my friends on Facebook, like Google+ Circles feature," she added.

Skinner said the existing relationships on Facebook would be the hardest thing for Google+ to overcome. "Even if users prefer Google+, there aren't many benefits for them to move because the existing social networks are already tied up in Facebook," he noted.

Google+ would first need to attract more users and the level of social networking would follow, he added. However, whether the company would be successful would depend on its ability to make the site more attractive, he pointed out.

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