Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How F8 made me feel

I just got home from the F8 Facebook Conference, and of course there's already thousands of recaps, predictions, warnings, praises and opinions flying on twitter, Mashable, TechCrunch, and blogs like this one by Jeremiah Owyang. What I'd like to share is my personal experience at F8.

Elated. Inspired. Energized. These are just a few things I felt at F8. I witnessed a major shift in the way we'll all be experiencing the world in the near future. And I'm not even taking about the actual sessions. Upon registering, I received a beautifully designed passport with a small rectangular token attached to it. I logged on to and typed in the number on the token, connecting my facebook identity to it. Whenever I entered a session, I tapped the token on a glowing scanner and it instantly created a post that says where I am. This worked for tagging photos too. My coworkers and I stood in front of a photo kiosk, a photo was snapped, and we tagged ourselves on the spot by tapping our tokens to the kiosk and touching our faces on the screen. And of course, the photo was auto posted to facebook. My first thought - when will we have permanent tokens subdermally inserted into out palms? With a swipe of your seemingly naked hand, you could potentially complete a credit card transaction, add shopping items to a list, bookmark an actual object or physical place. No more barriers between device and human. (For differing opinions on Facebook's RFID tokens, check out this post on Techcrunch.)

Here's some photos of the Facebook token, scanner and the larger than life screen that visualized patterns of everyone moving from scanner to scanner:

Here's the facebook presence token in my passport

Here's the glowing scanner - changes color when you've successfully connected

Here's the visualization showing people's movement patterns throughout the venue. Check out that "War Games" reference in the upper right :-)

One of the central themes of F8 was simplicity. Ahhh, simplicity. Everyone strives for it in their product. Many claim to have it, as if telling users something is simple on their home page makes it so. But facebook, they know how to do simplicity. Every session I attended used consistent language and visuals. At first it seemed a little repetitive, but then I realized - their united front made it simple and memorable. All the sessions spoke the same message, like a well conceived Presidential election.

There were 2 points in particular that to me, summarize their dedication to simplicity:

Simplicity by listening to users
Chris Cox, VP of Product, commented in his inspiring closing remarks that "the products were hacks". The team watched people "misuse" the product, then designed featured that enabled users to do what they wanted to do. He told the story of the early days before facebook had photo albums. The only place a user could upload a photo was their user profile, and they noticed some people were changing this photo multiple times a day. They looked at all the photo sites at the time - flickr, ophoto, kodak (to name just a few). There were so many things people could do with their photos on these sites. Sticking to their concept of being people-centric, they added just one main feature - the ability to tag people.

Simplicity by not listening to the users
In the "Designing for Social Web" session, Julie Zhou talked about some featured that users have asked for, such as the ability to see what friends have recently visited your profile. While this seems like a good idea on the surface, there's also a possibility that you could be seen as nosy, creepy, or just inappropriate if you keep visiting someone's profile. Another is the dislike button. Sure, there are things you really want to dislike sometimes, but instead you say nothing at all. What do these 2 things have in common? Facebook doesn't implement features that would potentially discourage people from sharing. The most important thing is that people feel comfortable sharing, and that action is as easy as possible. With the new soon to be ubiquitous like button, sharing what you love will become as commonplace as clicking a link.

One of the most important factors that has made facebook successful is their consistent adherence to a vision that works - making it people centric and keeping it simple. Their success also shows that these 2 things are the some of the hardest objectives to achieve, but when you do, you can change the world.